Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Dead Flip: 1980s Horror for Teen Readers

If you can’t afford the Stranger Things pinball machine, you can at least read this book instead. In it, a trio of Eighties kids encounter the pinball equivalent of the Polybius arcade game, but instead of Men in Black, it runs on black magic. The scrawniest of the three falls victim to its power, but his other two friends will not uncover the truth until the 1990s in Sara Farizan’s YA novel, Dead Flip, which goes on-sale today.

Maziyar “Maz” Shahzad, Corinne “Cori” O’Brien, and Sam Bennett had always been inseparable, united by their geekly passions, but they were on the verge of the age when their coed friendship would get awkward. Halloween 1987 might have been their final time trick or treating together, even if Bennett had not mysteriously disappeared that night. Upset that his friends had opted for a party with the popular kids instead of visiting more houses, Bennett was drawn to the newly refurbished pinball machine at their favorite convenience store.

Shahzad also had a weird physical reaction to the Wizard-themed machine, but it really got its hooks into Bennett. Somehow, it made the young boy disappear. At least, that is what Shahzad always thought, but he couldn’t really verbalize the suspicion, because it would sound crazy. Instead, the guilt he carried affected his grades and his emotional well-being. He and O’Brien drifted apart, especially after he transferred to a new school. By chance, he and O’Brien bump into each other at the mall in 1993, which providentially reawakens their memories of 1987, just in time for a major new development in the case. Of course, it is too crazy for them to bring to parents, so they will have to deal with it together and with the help of a few of their new friends.

Occasionally, Farizan uses turns of phrase that would have sounds out of place in either the golden age of the 1980s or the bad old 1990s, but there is a good deal of on-target, era-appropriate nostalgia (plenty of
Monster Squad references, but no Cannon action movies). Generally, she accurately captures the tone of a childhood without social media. The Stranger Things comps are unavoidable, but the Polybius urban legend was much more of a model for the story.

Yet, it is the relationship between the old friends and their new friendships that will keep the younger intended audience reading. At times, O’Brien and Shahzad’s devotion to the imperiled Bennett is quite poignant. It is also rewarding to see these central characters growing up and taking responsibility for their lives, especially under such extraordinary circumstances.

Unfortunately, there are a few interior monologues from O’Brien complaining about the unfair social demands of high school life for an in-the-closet young woman like that go on a little too long. Yet, that kind of content is demanded by the YA literary gate-keepers these days, and they don’t appreciate subtlety, so there it is. At least regular readers can blow through them relatively quickly and get back to a good story.

And it is a good story, nicely told. Perhaps most impressively, Farizan nicely handles the constant flashbacks and flashforwards, skillfully using them for dramatic effect. Recommended for teens who enjoy retro 19980s horror and Gen X parents,
Dead Flip is now on-sale wherever books are sold.