By Chandler Baker
Available now from Disney Hyperion
Person receives a transplant organ that turns out to be ~evil is quite the cliche, so I appreciated that Chandler Baker didn't go for the obvious in her debut novel ALIVE. Stella Cross just got a new heart, and the surgery was a success in everyone's point of view but her own. Every day at 5:08 she's struck by intense pain.
Then she meets Levi Zin.
When Levi is close, the pain is gone. It doesn't hurt that he's handsome and charming. Stella doesn't just fall hard; she's totally obsessed. Her relationships with her best friend Brynn and it's complicated Henry fall to the wayside. She ignores everyone who tells her that this relationship is unhealthy, and that there's something off about Levi. That he's controlling and always around. She wants him to be always around. Until she doesn't.
ALIVE is an excellent horror story about obsession, ownership, and life after death. Stella's visions and pain are quite horrifying and liven up the more romantic first half of the novel. I particularly liked the combination of the paranormal creepiness revolving around the donated heart and the human creepiness of stalking and other forms of obsessive love. It was a one-two punch of horror and both strands worked together.
I also liked how much detail was given to Stella's friends. Brynn isn't as important to the story, but she clearly has a life off the page. Henry and Stella's complicated relationship is a nice counterpoint to how easily things go with Levi (at first). They're the best friends who kind of have a thing for each other but always admit it at the wrong point. It was easy to see that they could work it out if they gave a romantic relationship a chance, but that they could also manage to maintain a friendship if they didn't.
ALIVE is an assured debut. It does take awhile to pick up, but if you stick with it, it is a fun little horror story. There's even some nifty bits of mythology explaining how everything is happening. I look forward to Baker's High School Horror series, which will start in February 2016.