Jonathan Maberry is one of my favorite horror writers. This year he started a YA zombie series. Back in September, before the first book in the series, Rot & Ruin came out, I posted this interview with Maberry.
Of course, the book was on my to-read list from that moment on. To help matters along, this year's bibliography for the Adult Reading Round Table will be focused on YA titles. All of us on the Steering Committee will be reading 1 YA title that would be good for adults, and 1 adult title that would be good for teens. I put myself down for Rot & Ruin (teen to adult) and The Radleys by Matt Haig (Adult to teen).
So with all of that hype, how could the book have lived up. I will tell you I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rot & Ruin, but I should warn readers, it is very typically and YA novel. If you are not used to reading YA I should let you know what to expect: absent parents, teenaged protagonist, tough moral choices, huge coming-of-age theme. Also, while many reviews claim this novel has more violence and gore than most YA horror, if you read Maberry's adult novels, this one is tame in comparison.
Here is the basic plot. Benny Imura was a baby when the zombie apocalypse came. He was saved by his half brother Tom, but their parents were victims. It is now 14 years later and Benny and Tom live in a town in CA surrounded by fences. The rules are, 6 months after your 15th Birthday all residents need to pick a career and help out. Benny is up against the deadline and reluctantly agrees to join the family business. Tom is a bounty hunter who kills zombies outside the walls of town in what is known as "The Rot and Ruin." But, he is a gentle and good bounty killer.
Once Benny accompanies Tom on his rounds outside the safety of town, Benny's entire life is turned upside down. He must confront his own preconceived notions about the world and address his personal feelings about his brother, his friends, and his former heroes. In short, he must reevaluate everything he has ever known.
This is a powerfully moving story. The world Maberry has set up is one of the best post-apocalyptic zombie settings I have ever read; and believe me, I have read many. The descriptions of how the zombies rose, why they took over, and how society now functions is detailed and interesting. Anyone interested in post-apocalyptic tales of any kind will like this novel.
The characters are well drawn, complex, and interesting, and not just the main characters. Also, one of Maberry's specialties is creating really evil human villains. He is on top of his game here. The zombies are well described, the fight scenes compelling and scary, and the over all tone is anxious and frightening. The end is resolved and touching but with the hint of more adventures to come.
The pace is classic horror: begins with a foreboding scene, then backs up to fill us in on details, and beings to build steadily until the end, when it picks up and races to the finish. Like all good horror, the story is only taking a breather at the novel's end. We know there will be more bad guys and zombies to come.
Readers will fall in love with Maberry's storytelling style. It is compelling, action packed, full of great characters, and awesomely evil villains. The man rarely gets a bad review from the professionals or readers. In my new book, Maberry is grouped with Joe Hill as the "New Kings of Horror." If you like horror at all, read something by Jonathan Maberry.
Rot & Ruin was on the 2011 YALSA list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. August sees the release of part 2, Dust & Decay. Great covers by the way.
Three Words That Describe This Book: post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age, difficult choices
Readalikes: Zombies are everywhere these days, and I love every minute of them. But in this case, a readalike would need to be okay for a YA audience too.
Many readers cite The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (also a series) as a great readalike. Apparently, Ryan's novel is a also less graphic.
People who enjoyed Feed by Mira Grant or The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell will also enjoy this novel. Click here for my joint review of these two novels.
Charlie Higson's Enemy series or Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking series are also great suggestions here.
Another good post-apocalyptic novel without zombies, but with a similar feel and a high quality of writing for a YA book, is How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.
Also, Benny has a lot in common with Katniss from the Hunger Games trilogy.
I could go on forever with suggested readalike options, but I will stop with this one: The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks. Read up and be prepared...