The Boy Who Couldn't Die

The Boy Who Couldn't Die

4.2 34
by William Sleator

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The "brisk, addictive" thriller, now in paperback!

Sleator, a recognized master of sci-fi and horror and a favorite of reluctant readers, is a paperback powerhouse, with more than 600,000 copies of his novels sold in softcover. Here he gives fans a spin on the classic zombie story, following sixteen-year-old Ken as he bargains with a psychic to gain… See more details below


The "brisk, addictive" thriller, now in paperback!

Sleator, a recognized master of sci-fi and horror and a favorite of reluctant readers, is a paperback powerhouse, with more than 600,000 copies of his novels sold in softcover. Here he gives fans a spin on the classic zombie story, following sixteen-year-old Ken as he bargains with a psychic to gain immortality, only to awaken one night with blood-spattered clothes and the realization that he's sold more than his soul.

Author Bio: For more than thirty years, William Sleator has thrilled readers with his inventive books. His House of Stairs was named one of the best novels of the twentieth century by the Young Adult Library Services Association. He divides his time between homes in Boston and rural Thailand.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
Sleator (House of Stairs) journeys to the voodoo-zombie lore of the Caribbean for his latest thriller, about a boy whose fear of death prompts him to give up his mortal soul. Narrator Ken has just buried his best friend who was killed in a plane crash, and the experience has left him obsessed with death. The child of rich New Yorkers, Ken visits a voodoo priestess who offers to remove his soul and put it somewhere safe, making him invulnerable. He pays the $50 fee, the spell works, and Ken finds that not only can he incite a beating from the school bullies (their punches do no damage to him but practically break their fists), he can sustain a shark attack and come out unscathed. But hideous nightmares soon plague him, dreams in which he kills people he does not know, and he learns that the murders are actually happening, that his wayward soul is being used as an astral assassin by the bokor (a voodoo priest who practices black magic). Initially, Ken is completely unlikable, but he quickly learns his lesson, and by mid-point he has evolved into an interesting, conflicted hero. His dreams offer clues as to his soul's whereabouts, and he goes in search of it. A few gaps in logic (how can he have feelings for Sabine-the one who explains to him about the voodoo practices-if he is soulless?) do not diminish an overall sophisticated horror story told at a brisk, addictive pace. Ages 12-17. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Ken doesn't want to die. Ever. Ken is a teenager who gets everything he wants from his rich parents. But after his friend, Roger, dies in a plane crash, Ken realizes what he wants most of all is to never die. Cheri Buttercup advertises "Freedom from death," and she delivers. When Ken touches a hot pan, he is not burned. When he steals the girl-friend of a bully at school, the bully cannot beat him up. He is invincible. But he is not prepared for the dreams—of being buried alive, of digging up Roger's grave. Ken decides he's ready for the ultimate challenge: to face death. He goes scuba diving on a little island where sharks are known to attack, but Ken comes out unscathed. A new friend, Sabine, discovers his invincible nature. Sabine educates Ken about voodoo, zombies, and the evil magic that has surrounded him. They then fight against Buttercup's evil magic. This book is full of zombies, danger, murder, and creepy twists Sleator is famous for. Just when you think you've solved everything, there's a twist you didn't see coming. 2004, Amulet Books, 162 pp., Ages young adult.
—Holli Keel
Children's Literature
This latest offering will not disappoint fans of William Sleator's creepy psychological thrillers. Spooked by the plane crash death of his best friend Roger, sixteen-year-old Ken determines to find a way to never die. He finds a psychic in the phone book with the unlikely name of Cheri Buttercup who promises to grant his wish for only $50. But first, Ken must die so Cheri can remove his soul and hide it. Ken is thrilled by his good fortune as he appears immune from the school bully and a man-eating shark in the Caribbean. But things begin to unravel as he realizes he has become a zombie and must find his soul to become human again. Sleator includes enough authentic information about the poisonous nature of the puffer fish and the properties of zombie cucumbers to temper the wildly improbable plot. The reader may learn more details about scuba diving than absolutely necessary, but Sleator's descriptions of the coral reef and its colorful inhabitants lend verisimilitude to the narrative. Teen romance, a shark attack, zombies, and voodoo drums combined with Sleator's signature shocking ending make for a page-turning good read. 2004, Amulet Books/Harry N Abrams, Ages 11 to 14.
—Quinby Frank
When 16-year-old Ken's best friend is killed in a plane crash, Ken is so shaken that he decides he will do anything to become invulnerable. He answers an ad in the back of a psychic cult magazine that promises "Freedom from Death" and undergoes a weird ritual that really works. Bullies can't hurt him, heat can't burn him, and when he convinces his parents to go on a family vacation to the Caribbean to scuba dive, he discovers that even sharks can't bite him. But he also starts to have terrifyingly realistic dreams, about digging up graves and knifing strangers. When he confides in Sabine, a teenage diving instructor he meets in the Caribbean, she explains that he has become a zombie. He must reclaim his soul, she insists, and she travels with him to the Adirondack Mountains to undertake a dangerous dive under the ice of a lake to find his soul hidden in an underwater cave, guarded by the zombie of his best friend. This horror story is gripping and fast moving, and deliciously creepy in the style of House of Stairs and Sleator's other acclaimed SF YA novels. The title and the skull on the cover are sure to attract readers, and the gruesome information about zombies will captivate them. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Harry N. Abrams / Amulet Books, 176p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
After sixteen-year-old Ken's best friend, Roger, is killed in a plane crash, he is devastated by both his loss and his burgeoning sense of mortality. To allay his fears, this spoiled son of wealthy New York parents rashly seeks immortality from the enigmatic Cheri Buttercup. Following her bizarre ritual, he decides to field test his new condition by arranging a family trip to a Caribbean island known for scuba diving-and shark-infested waters. While diving, he lures a shark whose savage bite inflicts no harm, and Sabine, an island native, witnesses the encounter. They immediately bond, and she explains that his immortality resulted from Buttercup's voodoo ritual, transforming Ken into a zombie. His soul is now being used for evil through his new nightmares, which also provide clues to his soul's location. He and Sabine later travel to upstate New York in a perilous and frightening battle for Ken's soul. This novel would be stronger if Ken were savvier; his unqualified trust of Sabine, a mysterious character whom many readers will doubt, and blind adherence to her instructions and explanations regarding his soul's reclamation makes him sometimes appear clueless. Like most teens, Ken is occasionally unlikeable, defining females harshly by physical appearance and equating wealth with superiority. Nevertheless this tale is action-packed, full of enough ghoulish surprises, twists, and surreal situations to hook both younger suspense and science fiction fans. VOYA Codes 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Amulet Books/Harry N. Abrams, 176p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Lisa A.Hazlett
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-After his best friend dies in a plane crash, 16-year-old Ken Pritchard keeps thinking of a folktale about a monster that hid his soul, ensuring eternal life. Determined to avoid death himself, Ken finds a woman who removes his soul from his body. At first he is pleased; as in the folktale, he gains physical invulnerability, along with a respite from his misery. But, as readers will suspect from the many creepy details Ken willfully ignores, the rest of the folktale comes true as well. The woman is a zombie master, and he has become a modern-day monster partially under her control. Ken's increasingly desperate first-person narration, as he struggles to find his hidden soul and escape the zombie master's ever more brutal commands, makes for a gripping read. Particularly well rendered are the scuba-diving scenes in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean and under the thick ice on a wintry Adirondack lake. Sleator spends little time on the spiritual or emotional consequences of Ken's transformation, and characterization is secondary to plot development, but teenaged horror fans won't mind. From the photo of a just-unearthed skull on its cover to the plot twist in its final pages, this fast-paced, suspenseful book will appeal to reluctant and avid readers alike.-Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When Ken loses his best friend to a plane crash, he discovers zombie horror-and first love. Devastated by Roger's death, Ken seeks out trashy Cheri Buttercup, who promises to remove his soul in order to make him immortal. Ken tries to damage himself without effect after his successful soulectomy, but he feels oddly hollow even when beating the school bully. What he needs, Ken thinks, is some real danger, like a scuba-diving vacation in shark-infested waters. But the Caribbean exposes him to more than sharks. Beautiful scuba instructor Sabine teaches Ken about voodoo and zombies, and he realizes Cheri Buttercup's trickery: Ken is a zombie, and the frightening dreams he's been having are visions of his soul as it toils in murderous servitude. With Sabine's help, Ken must break his zombie curse. Frightening and (perhaps too) fast-paced, this has clever tributes to Lovecraft, but standard zombie fare is not up to Sleator's usual originality. Good and creepy, but should be better. (Fiction. 11-15)

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Product Details

Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
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Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.52(d)
750L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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