May 28, 2014

Assured Destruction with Zombies

by Michael F. Stewart
225 pp.
Ages 13+

If you haven't read Michael F. Stewart's Assured Destruction (2013), reviewed here, and Script Kiddie (2013), its sequel (reviewed here), then don't read this review.  Get Books 1 and 2 in the Assured Destruction series first.  You won't be disappointed and you'll enjoy Book 3 all the more.

When Script Kiddie ended, tech savvy Janus had saved her classmate and friend Hannah from attempting to kill an online predator, and sustained enough injuries–including a broken ankle and bruised ribs–to slow her down a bit. But only a bit because she's still got a lot to do.  If she doesn't want to lose her semester, she must attend school every day and on time.  With mom hospitalized and undergoing electric shock therapy, Janus feels like she must take on more of the business responsibilities.  The mortgage on the business, Assured Destruction, is still in jeopardy and Janus is working on ways to make more money, including billeting ten international students (though she's got nothing ready for them, only space in their industrial park business/home).  She also has a plan to make the company more profitable by seeking out some of the clients that had worked with her dad before he disappeared several years earlier, although her mom's boyfriend, Peter, thinks she shouldn't be doing this.  

Her visits to these clients, including AAA Ltd. and A ZaZa Pizza, leave her more confused.  They don't have the number of computers that would make them customers of Assured Destruction; in fact, she's even warned away by a pony-tailed man she sees at several locations.  Janus is quick to recognize that these clients may not provide the business they need but she's sure they may be helpful in finding her father. But her investigations hit too close to home, and her determination to learn the truth ends up putting her life and the business in jeopardy.

While pursuing the mystery of her father's disappearance and his dealings with these special "customers", Janus again gets involved with the hackers online at Darkslinger to find a solution to something the media is calling the Zombie Worm, a malware program that is affecting the school server, her home computers, and businesses, traffic lights, etc.  But Janus doesn't realize that, as they say, when you play with fire, sometimes you get burned. And when she's trying to do everything-school, business, heal, friends, boyfriend, community service, investigate her father, liaise with the police-she gets burned really badly, metaphorically, though almost physically too.  

Michael F. Stewart has developed Janus into a character who can see beyond the moment and beyond the computer, although this is something that is difficult for her.  She is used to taking care of everything, not relying on anyone or anything. Her physical injuries at the end of Script Kiddie have required her to get help, whether she wants it or not. (Driving the van with hand controls is an especially funny scene.)  Too soon her mental health is in jeopardy as well. Janus needed to know, really know, that she didn't have to take on the world by herself.  Many of us don't like asking for help, assuming that it shows weakness.  Wrong.  The weakness is in not asking, especially when we know many hands make light work.  Between her friends and others watching out for her, Janus has a lot of support.  By continually going after things herself, she negates what they mean to her.  Not deliberately, but she still does. Not until she is able to accept help do things start to turn around for her and Assured Destruction. 

Assured Destruction with Zombies may have an edge-of-your-seat adventure with several mysteries to solve and a whodunit that will surprise you but it's Janus' character that took centre stage for me, finally becoming a person with whom I could empathize.  Her computer smarts are far beyond any that I will ever know, though I'm sure a few young readers will know exactly what she's doing always, but those are her skills and strengths.  Showing her weaknesses and working with them, rather than through them, has made Janus stronger and a more likeable character. And I'm reassured, after reading Assured Destruction with Zombies, that nothing can destroy her. Janus may become damaged but she's an invincible protagonist who could take on the world, cyberspace and all.

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