The Plot: The Pales have white hair and skin and spooky eyes. They are the fortunate, or unfortunate, ones who have received the Lazarus Serum that brings them back from the dead. Their heart stops beating, they don’t breath, they are dead . . . but they keep going. They don’t grow old.
Jed and his friends mock and beat up the Pales who go to their school. They are strange and different. The law may say they have to go to school, but the law also says that if they are dead, they no longer own what they once did. They live in a part of town called “the Graveyard,” because no one wants them. Jed’s father is one of those “afterlife lawyers” who specializes in making sure that the Pales’ families, not the Pales, get their homes and property and money.
Then Jed gets in a car accident. He’s given the Lazarus Serum. He becomes a Pale.
The Good: I love Chris Wooding’s books, and I hadn’t realized he had a new one out until I saw this at NetGalley. When I began reading it, I was surprised at just how short it was. As Wooding explains at his website, Pale was written for Barrington Stoke UK, a publisher specializing in “reluctant or dyslexic readers.” This past year, Lerner began distributing Barrington Stoke books in the US. So, that explains both why I hadn’t heard about Pale, as well as the shortness of the book.
Pale is quick moving: Jed is all action, and it’s all immediate. The plot moves swiftly, from Jed beating up Pales to then being one. The dilemma is simple: Jed becomes what he despised. What happens now to his family, his friends? Who is he now? None of this self-examination takes much time, and is done within the context of getting beat up or running away or standing up for himself.
Pale has an interesting idea — the dead come back and they’re not really wanted — and it’s basically a conversation starter for the reader. For a short book, it’s full of things that will generate discussions: why would someone take the Lazarus Serum? If people don’t want their families and friends to do, why reject them? Why does Jed and his friends bully the Pales? Etc., etc.
For me, it was nice to have a quick shot of Wooding. The appeal for reluctant readers is obvious: easy to read, short, action, but with things to really think about, and an exciting idea. While I want more, this delivers exactly what it promises: a book to entice and excite reluctant readers.