Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Zombie Dystopia meets Catcher in the Rye

Rot & Ruin
OK, "Zombie Apocalypse meets Catcher in the Rye" may seem like a ridiculous pairing, but in Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin, it just works. This zombie Sci-Fi thriller meets coming-of-age tale is quite simply the best YA zombie story I have ever read! In fact, it might just be one of the best zombie stories, YA or adult fiction, I have ever read!

Benny Imura was just a toddler when his brother, Tom, took him and ran away from their home on the First Night. Benny has never forgiven his brother for running away and not saving his mother from their father who had already become one of the monsters. Even though Tom has since become a bounty hunter who ventures into the Rot and Ruin to kill zombies for money, Benny still thinks Tom is a coward.

Together they live in Mountainside, a small fenced town that works together to survive the zombie apocalypse that started 14 years ago. Benny has just turned 15 and all 15 year olds must find a job or their food rations will be cut in half. Benny and his friend Chong start looking for jobs, but can't find anything that isn't disgusting, terrifying, or simply too much effort than they are willing to give. Chong gets a job as a lookout on the fence tower, but Benny's imperfect eyesight keeps him looking. Finally, without any other options, he must resign himself to apprentice with his brother, and nothing could annoy him more.

When Tom agrees to take Benny into the Ruin and show him what he does, Benny has no idea what he is in for. Benny hates the zoms and has long since idolized the ruthless bounty hunters like Charlie Pink-Eye and Motorcity Hammer. Once in the Ruin, however, he sees Tom's side of the world. While the zoms are certainly to be feared, they aren't to be disrespected. Tom teaches Benny that the zoms were once people, and his job is very different than the other bounty hunters. Instead of bringing back limbless torsos for money like the other hunters, Tom goes on specific missions for family members to give them closure and "quiet" their loved ones. When Benny accompanies him on a quieting, it becomes clear Tom is anything but a coward. When they come upon a group of bounty hunters "having fun" with a bunch of zoms, Benny truly understands Tom's job finally- it isn't about killing monsters, it is about ending someone's suffering.

Things begin to go awry in the superstitious town of Mountainside when the newest Zombie Trading Cards are released. In addition to Benny getting the new hunter card- Tom- he also gets the Lost Girl card. The Lost Girl is a myth of a feral girl who survives in the ruin. She is stunning and Benny instantly feels protective of her. When he begins to investigate the card, however, he finds his brother may be the best source of information about the Lost Girl. Unfortunately, Charlie Pinkeye is also interested, and not for humanitarian reasons. He has much more disturbing reasons for wanting to find the Lost Girl, and when he attacks Benny's friend Nix and her mother, Benny and Tom must go into the Ruin to save Nix before Charlie can put her into the Zombie Games- a twisted gladiator-esque challenge where the hunters pit children against zombies.

This book was simply fantastic. It really showed the superstitious nature of the survivors in the small town. Once they had shielded themselves from the zombies, they weren't willing to even consider what happened outside the fences. Like the other townsfolk, Benny only sees the zombies for what they currently are- flesh munching, mindless monsters. Tom sees what they were- people like you and me. It shows the humanity within a pretty scary genre.

The writing is not too mature or too immature. It would be appropriate for stronger junior high readers all the way through high school readers. There isn't an abundance of violence, even though the story centers around zombies and bounty hunters. This book is a great story for the students who are interested in some action but really like a character driven story, as Benny and Tom are the true focus of this incredible book. All I can say is even if you are not a zombie enthusiast, you should give this book a chance- it will really blow your preconceived notions out of the water!

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