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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Allison Hewitt is Trapped

This is a cross post with RA for All:

Allison Hewitt is Trapped [herein AHiT] by Madeleine Roux is a first novel in what will become a loosely based series of novels following different people, in different parts of the country as they deal with a zombie apocalypse and its aftermath.

The appeal for readers here is that the novel begins in a book store.  Allison is a few years out of college and struggling to find her place in the adult world.  She passes her time working in a bookstore in Madison, WI.

And then, the zombie apocalypse comes and Allison finds her calling...killing zombies!  She begins with a ragtag group of employees at the bookstore as they learn to kill zombies (with Allison in the lead) and finally make their way out into the devastated world.

Giving more plot would ruin it because the story is all about Allison's emotional and physical journey to safety.  In terms of the plot, though, it unfolds like many of today's zombie stories.  [Click here for more by me on zombie novels.]

However, what I want to focus on in this review is why AHiT is different from other zombie novels; in other words, why you would or would not want to read it for yourself.

The most striking thing about this novel is its format.  The entire novel is written as blog posts which Allison writes on the run and publishes when there is access to the government's emergency wireless.  So each chapter is a post and they end with comments.

Not only then are Allison and her group's actions part of the plot, as readers we also start to follow the shortened stories of those who leave comments.  This adds an interesting layer to the story in that we see Allison and her struggles in detail, but we also get a glimpse into the struggles, heartbreak, and dilemmas of many others all over the world.  This was a great addition to the plot, action, anxiety, oh just to everything.

There is a further level of depth to the story here too.  The entire "novel" is presented to a publisher many years after the zombie apocalypse as an example of a first hand account of one survivor.  The books begins with the submission letter by a young professor (whose Dad the reader later meets as a child in the story) and ends with the publisher's response (which definitely adds a twist to what we just read and rooted for).

It is also important to note that Roux initially wrote AHiT as a series of blog posts before it was published in book form.

On a side note, as I mention in the new book, horror novels often use an interesting frame like letters, official documents, or blog posts to further enhance the unease and anxiety of the story.  Here it works quite well as not only are we worried for Allison's safety as readers, but we are also concerned with the safety of her laptop.  Without it, we will never know what happened to her!  Roux knows this and makes sure how Allison AND the computer escape each new trial are both clearly explained in the story.

And yes, this novel does fit into the horror genre, but it is on the tamer side.  In fact, I could see chick lit fans who don't mind a little blood and guts really loving this book.  Roux writes better than average horror action sequences.  They are scary, bloody, detailed, and action packed.  You are on the edge of your seat following the gruesome action.  But it is not over-the-top gratuitous.  In other words, it is a lot more than Sookie Stackhouse or Twilight but a lot less than an all out zombie horror scarefest like those by Jonathan Maberry or Brian Keene.

And like all good horror novels, AHiT has both supernatural and human bad guys.  Very bad human bad guys, both men and women.

Overall, I would call it a horror/women's fiction/humorous meld.  AHiT is an excellent reading option for someone who wants something a little scarier, but not too gory.  It is also a great option for horror readers looking for a strong female lead.

AHiT has great characterizations.  Besides Allison, there are many well rounded characters here.  In fact, during the times when Allison and her friends are a bit safer the characters carry the story.  I should note that these slower times also help to build the anxiety of what is to come.  The reader knows that a zombie apocalypse is a bad thing.  Safety is relative.  Just like Allison and her crew, we are all waiting for the next time they all have to race away from certain death.

Speaking of certain death, like any believable zombie horror novel, there is a high body count here.  Characters you grow to love will die.

I know I mentioned chick lit fans above.  I should expand.  There is a strong theme here of Allison looking to find her place in the world AND a looking for love angle.  There is a strong romantic story line between her and someone she meets.  It has all of the trapping of a romance novel: they meet, fall in love, his wife returns, Allison runs away, he ditches wife and finds Allison, they live happily ever after.  I could have done without this part of the story myself.  I found Allison and her quest to find safety, and possibly her mother, compelling enough without the romance angle, but I can appreciate how it would rope in a whole other subsection of possible readers.

AHiT is a very quick and fun read.  I would not give it to a hardcore zombie fan, but I will give it out to  my patrons who are tiring of paranormal fiction and want a little more "teeth" in their stories.

Three Words That Describe This Book: zombie apocalypse, darkly humorous, character centered

Readalikes:  For readers who want more novels which are horror (not paranormal romance) with zombies and dark humor, I would also suggest:

For those who want more horror with female protagonists, I would highly suggest:
Finally, although I don't think it is a readalike, I should mention that Justin Cronin's The Passage is similar to AHiT in that both are written as a series of found documents looking back on the early days of the apocalypse and the exploits of those involved.  The Passage is much more detailed and literary than AHiT, but if a reader really likes this aspect then The Passage or World War Z by Max Brooks are the perfect suggestion.  Just make sure you are clear that both of these suggestions are more literary, less overtly humorous, and definitely more methodically paced.

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