Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yay for YA: Rot & Ruin

I love young adult literature.  I'm not sure I can quantify why it attracts me so much, but I've enjoyed reading it, taking library science classes about it, reading reviews about it, seeking out the award winners and the yet-undiscovered gems.  Maybe it's because it's so accessible, yet unafraid to touch on deep topics.  Whatever the reason, I like to read books from all over this age group.

Except romance novels.  I can't stand those at any level.  If you want some good YA romance reviews, please visit my friend Michelle's book review blog, Never Gonna Grow Up!  They're much more her cup of tea.

Anyway.  Here is a review of Jonathan Maberry's book Rot & Ruin, the first in the Benny Imura series.

Checkouts: Not owned by the school
Typical reader: Aimed at teens and zombie-apocalypse fans

Synopsis: Faced with needing a job at the age of 15 or losing half his food rations, Benny Imura becomes his older brother's apprentice as a zombie bounty hunter or "closure specialist."  In this post-apocalyptic world where "zoms" prowl outside the town walls, Benny learns much about the older brother he's always seen as a coward, the bounty hunters he admires, the world outside the walls that most refuse to discuss, and the true nature of zombies and humans alike.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

These zombies eat more time than brains.
I used to be afraid of zombies.  I avoided media related to them in all forms.  And then I started dating a horror and zombie fan.  Slowly, I was introduced to the genre, first with the oddly cute movie "Fido," where zombies are dangerous pets/slaves of sorts in a post-apocalyptic yet retro-1950s community.  I've worked my way up to playing stupid Zacebook applications like "Zombie Lane" and watching the classic George Romero films, most recently "Night of the Living Dead."  To understand the monster is to dispel fear.

My experience actually mirrors Benny's somewhat.  At the beginning of the book, he hated and feared zombies.  He could remember First Night, the time when the initial zombie outbreak occurred and humanity all but lost the war.  Though he was a toddler at the time, he had vivid memories of what happened to his parents - and how his brother Tom had run away with him.  Thirteen years later, he's looking for a job and does not want to work for his detested older sibling, who hunts zombies.  After none of the other jobs in town suit him, Benny accepts his fate and joins Tom in the great Rot & Ruin that used to be America, learning Tom's trade.

And man, does he learn a lot.  Tom teaches him survival skills and the ways of zombies.  These zombies are admittedly less frightening than one might expect, considering they cannot open doors.  As Tom shows his kid brother, they are also very recognizably things that used to be people - they used to be someone's loved one.  Tom isn't like the other bounty hunters who brag at the town store about their grandiose battles against the zombie hoards; he brings closure to the former loved ones of the townsfolk, reading them letters from his employers as the zombie sits tied up in its home, then quickly finishing them off humanely.  While zombies are certainly dangerous, Benny learns how to be smartly cautious and wary rather than fearful.  It's important to know one's enemy.

Then the book heats up, with intrigue, murder and kidnappings, legends and love, and doesn't stop until the quiet epilogue that made me a bit misty-eyed.  There's good reason why I finished this book in two days - and it would have been less time if not for those silly necessities like sleep and work.  The novel is a real page-turner, and the 458 pages in the hardcover edition just flew by.

The prose and plot are excellent.  The delivery is superb, with phenomenal pacing and the right amount of hints that allow an alert reader to predict what's coming, without seeming either forced or too predictable.  Granted, a bit of hope doesn't hurt, especially when things are looking really bleak for our heroes.

The character development is everything you could want in a coming-of-age story, as Benny learns about everyone around him.  Not one lead or supporting role is left flat; everyone from Benny to his friends, from the wickedly cool bounty hunters to the town sketch artist, has depth to their story.  And certainly, not everyone is as they seemed when Benny was young and naive.

For as dark as this book can be, I did find some humor in it.  The adventures in job hunting and the personalities the bounty hunters showed while telling their yarns in the general store were lighthearted.  And calling nomadic zombies "noms"?  That cracked me up.  Zoms and noms!

Overall, this is a fabulous book that I could easily recommend to any zombie-lover or teen looking for an adventurous novel (and who isn't afraid of the massive size of this thing).  It's not overly gory or vulgar, so even a mature middle school student might handle it.


  1. You're welcome - and thanks for following!

  2. Sounds like a great book! Awesome review! New follower :D

    Books Ahoy

  3. Thanks for following! I'll check out your blog, too.