Wow. This book. Wow.
I don't even know where to begin. At first, I didn't know what to expect. Sure. I read the publisher's description. Benny Imura, just another teen coming of age in a post apocalyptic world.
Kind of. Yes. But this is not just some cliche YA thriller/horror. This has some real substance to it.
The book doesn't rely on the icky-zombie-gross-factor to keep the reader invested in finishing the story, not that there is anything wrong with that, but there was more to this novel than a horde of zombies and a collection of desperate survivors trying to figure out how to get by in a crazy new world.
This book is about relationships between people. Especially the relationship between Benny and his brother Tom. See, Benny hates Tom. He thinks he's a coward. He remembers First Night (the zombie takeover), and he remembers his brother Tom, leaving his mother to become zombie food to zombie dad, while running off with baby Benny.
Benny hates Tom for running. He hates Tom for his quiet, collected attitude, which he thinks is boring. Benny knows his brother is a respected bounty hunter, but he's nothing like the burly and outspoken Charlie Pink-Eye or the Motor City Hammer. Those guys are real zombie killers.
But Tom? He's just a schmuck in Benny's eyes. And when Ben turns 15 he most certainly doesn't want to become Tom's apprentice so his rations don't get cut. So he tries to find another job. But everything else doesn't exactly pan out for Benny, and he resigns himself to the "family business."
Tom isn't the only thing Benny hates. He also hates the zombies that destroyed civilization 14 years before. Including the ones who stagger around the fences of his small community, Mountainside.
Rot & Ruin Zombie Rules!1. Everyone who dies becomes a zombie. Even if the individual dies of natural causes without ever coming in contact with a zombie.
2. Zombie bites will turn a person into the walking dead. Scratches apparently do not.
3. To kill a zombie, one must destroy the brain stem. People in Benny's community are "quieted" after they die with a "silver," or thin blade, meant to puncture the base of the skull.
But when Tom takes Benny out to the Rot and Ruin for the first time, something changes in Benny. He realizes that his perception of the world, is nothing like reality, and he learns what it is that his brother really does.
Benny starts to realize that there is a whole world outside of his community. He discovers other people surviving out in the Rot and Ruin, and that not all bounty hunters are alike . . .
The writing is crisp, and to the point. I really liked that it was written in third person, past, because I think first person-present tends to be a little overused in YA. But it is definitely written from Benny's point of view, and the voice gives the reader insight into Benny's mind with appropriate descriptions and literary devices, to show a developing character throughout the story.
One part I liked in particular is when Benny's hatred for zombies changes into something else:
"On their first trip into the Ruin, Tom had said that fear makes you smart, but Benny understood now that his brother had been talking about caution rather than fear. these zoms, every last one of them—even the smallest child—would kill him if they could, but not one of them meant him harm. Meaning, intention, will . . . None of that was part of their makeup. There was no more malice there than in a lightning strike or bacteria on a rusted nail, and as he sat there, he felt his terror of them give way to an awareness of them as something merely dangerous. The intense hatred of the dead he had once harbored was gone completely; burned out of him in Harold Simmons's house. Only the fear had remained, and no that, too, was wavering in intensity." (Chapter 33)
The first half of the book is filled with a lot of back-story (exciting back-story, but back-story), and my interest started waning a little bit, but the last half more than makes up for it, and wouldn't be possible without the narratives laid out in the beginning.
When Benny stumbles into the mystery of the "Lost Girl," and crosses a few bounty hunters, he discovers that the living can be much more malicious than the mindless walking dead. He ends up on a quest of revenge and rescue, and in the process learns more about himself and what love is.
I'm really excited to read the next book. A few questions pop up throughout the narrative that leaves the reader wanting more. (Minor Spoiler: Especially when the characters witness a jumbo jet flying across the sky... where did that come from?!)
The whole thing was a fabulous read. Memorable protagonists (I'm in love with Tom Imura). Memorable villains. And the epilogue really hit me on an emotional level. I praise and, at the same time, chide Mr. Maberry for making me cry like that.
Read it. Seriously.