I'll begin with looking back four score and seven years ago when I was a young 'un ...
Sorry. It's Friday.
As a pre-teen and teenager, much to my mother's chagrin, I read and enjoyed Stephen King novels. My favorites? His classics tales including Carrie, Christine, Cujo, Firestarter, Night Shift (great short stories), Salem's Lot, and Pet Semetary. I would read them throughout the school day during lunch, study halls, and during some more boring classes. I liked that most of his characters were regular people dealing with the unnatural. It was psuedo normal and that made it creepy and enjoyable. They were Edgar Allan Poeish in a Tell-Tale Heart kind of way. Keep in mind this was also the same time popular horror movies/teen movies were Halloween (we shouldn't have been allowed in the theater but they didn't really care), Halloween II, and When a Stranger Calls were must sees. So I did at once have an affinity for this genre, but it has fallen by the wayside. All things considered, I approached Gil's All Fright Diner with an open mind knowing that it was a YA Alex Award winner for a reason.
Gil's All Fright Diner is overflowing with all the necessary elements to make is a comic horror classic. There are vampires (Earl), werewolves (Duke), ghosts (Cathy and her dog Napoleon), a sex driven teenage jock and sometimes willing dupe (Chad), the locals (Loretta, Sherriff Kopp), occassional zombies (dearly departed townspeople), assorted townspeople, and a budding queen of the damned (Tammy, aka Mistress Lileth). All of these characters live in or happen through Rockwood, a town situated in the desert with a diner that is potentially the Gate to all evil. In some ways, it reminded me of the original Ghostbusters ("I ain't afraid of no ghost") when the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster were needed to open the portal for Gozar. Gil's might not have had Slimer, but it had plenty of gore, and humor, to please a horror officianado.
Martinez mixes all of these characters together with a writing style utilizing wit, sarcasm, humor, and a dose of pig latin for a really fun romp. How so? Tammy, Mistress Lileth (queen of evil) oddly enough consults her Magic 8 ball for sprit advice. Convincing it to provide the answers she wants, beyond "all signs point to no," she promises to let it watch television.
"The eternal struggle between light and dark was waged on many fronts.
Television syndcation was just one of them." p. 135
It is easy to see how this was chosen for an Alex Award. Any reader who happily read R.L. Stine as a child, and is not ready for Stephen King, may gravitate to Gil's hoping for a more adult read. They find it.
Right and wrong, kind spirits and the damned, they all live - relatively speaking - happily ever after. Having a chance to listen to Martinez speak at ALA in New Orleans, I know he did not write this for the Young Adult market. He seemed a bit overwhelmed, and grateful, for the oportunity to speak to the session attendees. Sometimes you have to be in the right place. Martinez has a new title due out on August 8th, In the Company of Ogres, and it looks like a winner.