Every once in a while you run across a book that seems destined to be a hit based on title and premise alone. Killer Pizza, by Jumanji screenwriter Greg Taylor, is just such a book. When 14-year-old Toby McGill snags a summer job at new local restaurant Killer Pizza, he's thrilled because the job gives him a chance to work towards his secret desire to be a chef. Toby loves the job, especially when he becomes a key part of a team, together with popular but surprisingly nice Annabel, and cool but frustratingly distant Strobe. But when Toby learns that the pizza place is actually a front for an underground monster-hunting organization, he has some serious decisions to make.
Killer Pizza reminded me a bit of Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp books, in which an ordinary boy finds himself unwillingly transformed into an action hero, and a bit of Jennifer Barnes' The Squad books, in which an adult organization decides to train a secret group of teen operatives. Except that, you know, there are monsters in Killer Pizza, most notably guttata (sophisticated brethren to gargoyles, bearing attributes of vampires and werewolves).
I think that Killer Pizza will fill an important niche, offering a mix of horror and adventure, aimed solidly at middle school readers. There's plenty of pizza. Toby and Strobe are both crazy about Annabel. Toby is picked on by the local bully. Toby has normal sibling rivalry with his too-perfect younger sister, and battles to get more independence from his parents. And, oh yeah, he has access to high-tech weapons, and he learns to fight monsters.
Taylor's writing is fast-paced and action-focused, with heavy use of italics and exclamation points. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I think that it's likely to work for middle schoolers. Here are a couple of examples:
""Your obvious uneasiness and disbelief is to be expected," Harvey continued. "Allow me to prove to you that I'm not a total, raving loon." Harvey turned to a high, narrow refrigerator located behind him and opened the door. The trio couldn't believe what they saw hanging on a hook in the fridge.
It was a large, grotesque figure that looked like a cross between a human and an animal!
This time the creature was not backlit by a streetlamp or shrouded in darkness. The bright basement light revealed every chilling detail of the thing's features." (Page 47, ARC)
"When Harvey walked into his office he literally got goose bumps from what he saw on one of the monitors. Two hooded people had broken into Killer Pizza!" (Page 221, ARC)
It's no coincidence R. L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame) wrote the blurb for this title. Killer Pizza is a great book for kids who have outgrown early middle grade horror, but still want to read creepy stories, and aren't necessarily ready to move on to Stephen King. I think this is one that middle school librarians will definitely want to stock. I believe that a sequel is in the works, too.
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: May 26, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher (quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book)
Other Blog Reviews: None that I found. But Betsy Bird commented, on seeing the publisher preview for this title: "The gist appears to be pizza delivery = monster slaying. R.L. Stine wrote the blurb for it, which got me to thinking. Why aren't there more kid horror series and books out there? Not teen horror series. We're fine with Cirque du Freak, thank you much. But for kids, when they want something vaguely horrific it's to the Stine or the Alvin Schwartz they go. Why aren't more people capitalizing on this? I stand confused."
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.