I have been a young adult librarian since 2006. I have witnessed book after book coming into the library. Let me tell you--there doesn't seem to be anything original coming in anymore. Now, teens and the adults who read teen books can breathe easy. In Rot and Ruin, Jonathan Maberry has created a novel that takes one of the latest crazes--zombies--and creates a new world that dystopian readers will delve into.
It seems odd to use zombies to teach lessons about humanity. It's the future, and zombies have taken over the world. Some virus has set in, and now it's only a matter of time before every human eventually becomes a zombie. If you get infected by a zombie, you're toast, and even if you die a natural death, you re-animate as a zombie. The only way to avoid being a zombie is for someone to drive a large stake into the back of their head.
Our protagonist is Benny Imura, a teenager who is your typical surly teen. Orphaned when his parents both became zoms, he now lives with his brother Tom. He despises Tom, because he believes Tom abandoned his parents when they needed him the most. But right now, Benny's biggest problem is finding a job. Everyone is required to work. He is willing to do anything but work with Tom. Tom is a zombie hunter, which should impress Benny, since he seems to be in awe of the other zombie hunters in town. But it's hard to look up to someone who you believe is a coward. Finding a job proves more difficult than Benny realizes. Inevitably, he ends up working with Tom, and he learns that everything he originally believed was a lie.
Maberry creates a world that readers can immerse themselves in. And he does this without us noticing. The beginning scenes are crucial. Benny describes what jobs he has tried. He has tried being a carpet coat salesman, a fence patroller, locksmith, and so on. As he describes each job, we learn about this world we have entered and what its citizens regard as normal. Benny and his friends sit around the store and trade zombie hunter cards. They fantasize over the lost girl, a girl who is supposedly living in the wild ever since her family was killed by zombies.
This book works because although zombies provide the context for the story, it actually has nothing to do with zombies and everything to do with humanity. What constitutes a monster and what does being human mean? I found myself being sucked into this story. This book doesn't make you love zombies, like the Twilight books did for vampires, but instead it helps you respect zombies and what they once were.
Inevitably, everyone in this story is doomed, but until they do, these zombie hunters are determined to make the world a more humane place for zombies and humans alike!