Book Review: They Threw Us Away

Although I am posting this review well into November, They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus (illustrated by Rovina Cai), was my Halloween read. A story about teddies waking up in the middle of a massive and putrid rubbish dump instead of in the warm bed of a loving child looked to be the perfect horror story for an arctophile such as myself. The tale turned out to be not quite what I had expected.

In the same way that Watership Down features rabbits but is not exactly about rabbits, so They Threw Us Away features a small group of intrepid teddy bears but is not exactly about teddies. Rather, it is an allegory about what is granted value by contemporary humans and the way we too often ignore, discard and put in danger that which should be cherished.

There are certainly horror elements in the story. A scene in the back room of a store is particularly disturbing, evoking as it does images of survivors in the mass graves of genocide victims. The innocence and cute factor of teddy bears soon gives way to recognition of how people can come to be treated when viewed as an unwanted mass, and thereby dehumanised.

They Threw Us Away opens with Buddy, a blue bear made by the prestigious Furrington Company, waking up in a rubbish dump with no memory of how he got there. Finding himself able to move, freed for the first time from the confines of his packaging, he investigates the unpleasant surroundings. Close by he finds four other bears and sets about releasing them too. Together they try to survive the dump’s many predators before deciding they need to escape.

A teddy bear exists to be chosen by a child whose loving hug will send them into Forever Sleep – the teddy equivalent of Happy Ever After. This is the dream that every bear sitting on a shelf in a shop harbours – that they will be chosen and thereby find fulfilment. They may long for a child rather than a Prince Charming but do not give due consideration to life beyond that moment of bonding.

One of the bears, Reginald, is older and has therefore acquired more knowledge. He tells stories of: the Mother; her personal teddy, Proto; and the eight Originals. Reginald remains calm, willing to join the others but morbidly fatalistic. Buddy and his sidekick, Sunny, remain more hopeful that they can somehow return to the world from which they were so inexplicably cast away. All take care of Sugar, who is the most damaged but retains her sweetness. Perhaps in a hat tip to Watership Down, she has a scary vision that her friends cannot yet interpret.

The bears in this story have innate skills such as an ability to read. Bravery and loyalty feature along with an appreciation of hugs and being there when needed. The longer their quest to find children takes, the more their personalities anthropomorphise. Naturally, this leads to damage and distress.

The voices given to some of the bears did not always sit well with the usual image of a teddy as a gentle and loving creature. Proto in particular is portrayed as rather coarse and self-centred. The rest of the sleuth enabled an exploration of the value to be found in differing characteristics.

The images of the city were particularly well rendered – viewed through the lens of small, now rather grubby beings, who understand the danger of being treated as garbage. People emerge as more threatening than the rodents or vehicles (although headlights in the dark are recognised as a warning to flee). The teddies encounter many dangers and do not survive unscathed.

This is the first story in a proposed trilogy. It stands well alone, with a denouement that offers scope for further developments and adventures. Not every thread is tied up neatly, although from hints given much can be inferred. It is not a difficult read, excepting certain distressing scenes. The numerous illustrations are welcome additions, especially when the story appears bleak. Unlike Robyn (this blog’s intern), who reviewed the book here, I would be wary of recommending this to young readers. It is marketed as a children’s book but has a darkness they would need to be capable of dealing with.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, although it took a while to catch the writing’s cadence. I will be interested in finding out what happens to the teddies next.

They Threw Us Away is published by Henry Holt (Macmillan).  

Robyn Reviews: They Threw Us Away

‘They Threw Us Away’ is the first book in the ‘Teddies Saga’, a new children’s series by Daniel Kraus. Packed full of tension and adventure, it’s a story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike – especially fans of teddy bears or other furry friends. Kraus is known for writing adult horror stories, so this isn’t always the most cheerful story – but the sticky situations (sometimes literally sticky) are counterbalanced by the courageous teddy bear protagonists and underlying themes of friendship and teamwork.

Buddy’s head is full of stuffing and he doesn’t know much, but he does know this – he’s a Furrington teddy bear, and his job is to wait in the Store until he’s selected by a child. However, something has gone very wrong. Instead of the Store, he’s ended up being thrown out with the trash – and now he’s stuck at the dump, where danger lurks around every corner. Fortunately, Buddy manages to find some allies – fellow Furrington bears Sunny, Reginald, Sugar, and Horace – and together, they make a plan to escape the dump and find their way back to the Store. The perilous journey will see them battle with birds, rats, bulldozers and more – it’s a scary world when you’re made of fur and stuffing, even when you’re a Furrington bear with a Real Silk Heart.

Buddy makes a brilliant protagonist. Elected the leader by his companions (mostly by Sunny), he struggles to make himself appear brave and strong when he has no idea what to do next. Buddy is a caring bear who wants nothing more than a child to love him, and he’s not cut out for this new world where bears have to fight for survive. I spent the entire book wanting to give Buddy a hug (and if I ever get a blue bear for myself, he’ll now have to be called Buddy).

Sunny is the strong, decisive bear of the group, always striving for action. She’s got a bit of a temper but always has good intentions, and stirs the other bears to action when they’re worried about what to do next. However, she clashes a bit with Reginald – the oldest bear, and the brains of the group – and Sugar, who was damaged on her way to the dump. Sugar is the happiest bear, always speaking in rhyme, and regularly more insightful than her rash behaviour makes her seem. The final member of the group, Horace, is terrified of the outside world and relies on his friends for strength.

Each adventure the bears undertake feels tense, with the reader never sure what’s going to happen next. Survival for each bear is never guaranteed, and damage – from ant bites, bird beaks, the trash around them – could hurt their chances of being chosen by a child. The atmosphere is heighted by the gorgeous illustrations by Rovina Cai. Her images are black and white and show the bears at key moments, and both the colour scheme and style are beautifully suited to Kraus’s story.

Overall, this is a fun, tense read that will make you want to hug any bears in your life a bit tighter. Recommended for children aged 7+ and anyone looking for a good adventure story – especially fans of teddy bears.

Published by Henry Holt
Hardback: 15th September 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Living Dead

living dead

The Living Dead is a zombie novel started by the filmmaker George Romero, responsible for some of the most well-known zombie films including ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Day of the Dead’. After his death, it was given to the novelist Daniel Kraus – a lifelong Romero fan – to finish. Having never seen a single Romero film I can’t say how accurate the novel is to Romero’s vision, but I can say that it’s an epic, sprawling homage to the zombie genre, filled with musings on humanity and what it means to live and die.

The book is split into three parts – one right at the start of the zombie epidemic, one very short section as it develops, and one fifteen years later as humanity regroups. The first section takes up more than half the book. It jumps between a variety of characters in different situations – the pathologists who found the very first zombie, the teenager skiving school in her trailer park only to be surrounded by the undead, a news crew trapped in their studio, several members of the US navy on a boat off the coast of Mexico. Each adds a unique element, providing a fresh voice and perspective and showing the breadth of responses to the crisis. As time goes on, their stories start to intersect, unlikely people coming together in a way only a crisis can precipitate. The final section groups all the survivors in the same place – but Romero never believed in books having happy endings, and the ending is more a comma than a full stop.

While the novel is US-centric, rarely touching on anything happening outside, the characters are designed to show the breadth of humanity. Some are likeable, some tolerable, and some downright horrible to be in the headspace of. Highlights include Karl Nishimura, the US naval officer unexpectedly having to command a crisis when all he wants is to go home to his husband and children; Etta Hoffmann, the statistician determined to record everything for the history books; Charlene Rutkowski, the pathology assistant who finds herself hiding out with the married boss she’s been in love with for years; Chuck Curoso, the Face of WNN news network tasked with being the last news reporter on air. There are even rare glimpses inside the heads of the zombies – these are fascinating, with zombies seeing themselves as many bodies of a single consciousness rather than the individuality of human beings.

The main problem with this book is its scope. While it all comes together eventually, the first half is spent getting to know a couple of characters only to suddenly jump to someone completely different. In a way, this is less one large novel than several shorter stories, all of which weave in and out of each other as characters cross paths. It’s hard to remain interested and invested when the perspective changes with no explanation. Once each character is established, the book starts to flow much faster, the story coming into its own – but its possible the beginning would have worked better with either fewer point-of-view characters or a different structure.

Overall, this is an excellent book. The plot is gripping, the writing brilliant, and the characters varied and fascinating. The ending is an uncomfortable read but appropriate to the tone of the book. There are flaws, and I question if it needed to be over six-hundred pages long, but it’s a book worth persevering with. Recommended to all fans of zombies, apocalypse novels, and those interested in the psychology of human nature.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and Transworld Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

 

Published by Transworld
Hardback: 6th August 2020