Zombie novels. You’ve heard about them (many on this very blog!). They’re taking a bite out of the competition. SORRY! I had to do it – the jokes are just there, waiting to be told. But seriously, what has brought them out of the relative obscurity of horror (again, no offense meant), and plopped them into mainstream young adult literature, one of the fastest growing markets in publishing?
I think that part of the answer is that a good zombie story asks big questions, questions that everyone ponders when they realize that life isn’t simple, sweet or easy. What is humanity? What is the difference between a monster and a hero? What defines right, and what is evil? And what, if anything, can one person do to make the world a better place?
In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.
Benny Imura is an angry, unhappy, and fairly typical teen living behind a fence – a fence that fends off the zombie apocalypse. If it sounds crazy, it is a bit, but Jonathan Maberry brings the world of Rot & Ruin into immediate and vivid focus, and the reader is sucked into a tragic reality that makes a scary amount of sense. But in this story, nothing is as it seems, especially Benny’s brother Tom.
I think of this novel in terms of emotion. When we meet Benny, he is consumed by hatred. As his story progresses, he feels horror, disgust, despair, remorse, hope, and love – not necessarily in that order. It is a journey into adulthood, a loss of innocence, and a revelation of both the best and worse of humanity – and an ultimate adventure and survival story. It is gripping and important reading.
I want to tell you a little something about my reaction to this book, in case you’re not sure you want to delve into something bleak and zombified. It took me a year to start reading Rot & Ruin. It got fantastic reviews from people I trusted, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go deep into an apocalyptic setting. But I started it, and I was struck by the anger, genuine anger in Benny’s psyche that bleeds through the writing. And THEN my dad stole my paperback while he and my mom were visiting. He was so engrossed that I knew it wasn’t just me – this was a special book. And after that, it was just a matter of finding time to finish the story.
Recommended for: fans of coming-of-age sagas and Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, readers of all generations, guys and girls, zombie and apocalypse enthusiasts, and anyone who has wondered if they have the capacity for the extraordinary inside themselves.