Most Recent

T n YA – Rot and Ruin

Benny Imura can’t quite find a place where he fits in among the people of his small California town. His parents are gone, and he despises his brother Tom, who takes care of him. However, he needs to make a decision soon about his future, because he’s turning 16 soon and will stop receiving governmental rations if he is jobless at that point. He’s not really good at anything, and he doesn’t really care about anything, either. His fragile relationship with his best friend, Nix, hinges on whether or not he’ll ever make a move on her or just pine from a distance.

Oh, yeah, and there are zombies.

Benny Imura can’t quite find a place where he fits in among the people of his small California town. His parents are gone, and he despises his brother Tom, who takes care of him. However, he needs to make a decision soon about his future, because he’s turning 16 soon and will stop receiving governmental rations if he is jobless at that point. He’s not really good at anything, and he doesn’t really care about anything, either. His fragile relationship with his best friend, Nix, hinges on whether or not he’ll ever make a move on her or just pine from a distance.

Oh, yeah, and there are zombies.

What is great about Rot and Ruin is that Jonathan Maberry understands the genre’s tropes, and he works very hard to subvert them where possible and to use them when it serves the narrative. The novel maintains a sense of Romero-ian satire without letting the story become a testament to America’s corruption. It uses violence to punctuate the novel’s story and purpose, rather than to trivialize its characters and simply gross out the audience. (Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these are YA novels.)

Rot and Ruin also – and this is the thing for which it should receive the highest accolades – finds a way to represent zombies themselves as interesting and compelling characters, rather than merely obstacles to be overcome. This is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t reveal how that is so, but suffice it to say that Benny’s enigmatic older brother Tom provides the audience a compelling reason for reconsidering how most people think of zombies.

In fact, the dynamic between Tom and Benny is at the center of the story. The love story and other mysteries pale in comparison to how Benny and his older brother deal with each other. They are the most realistic and sympathetic characters, and a palpable tension exists between them throughout the book. Benny resents Tom for a past indiscretion, and Tom does nothing to defend himself regarding this particular thing, which is at the root of their discord.

This novel is influenced by a post-9/11, be-the-hero-if-you-can morality, but in a way that pokes at it, too. Some of the more sophomoric expressions of handling ethical issues are dealt out by the villains, The Motor City Hammer and Charlie Matthias, but even they seem to have a specific and interesting morality about their approach to living in a zombie apocalypse. Enough time has elapsed since First Night (the appearance of zombies) that people can wrap their heads around it, but they still need supplies from the outside world, so they hire pseudo-bounty hunters like the aforementioned Hammer and Matthias to do their work for them. Tom Imura is also a scavenger of sorts, but his ethos opposes every other brusque position held by the novel’s ostensible villains.

Rot and Ruin does not conform to normal zombie fiction plot contrivances, nor does it rely on merely repackaging old books and movies for the sake of being compared to Romero. Also, the novel is most interesting in its frame, which is reminiscent of a mid-century western. The Searchers specifically comes to mind, whenever the main plot kicks in – hopefully that isn’t too much of a spoiler – which gives the main characters a real and compelling reason for heading out into the zombie-infested surrounding world

Overall, my only complaint is that the book is a shade too long, and yet it moves along at a fast clip, so even that is a rather minor criticism. Read Rot and Ruin, if you’re a fan of the genre. There’s a whole series now, and I can’t wait to read the rest of them. Happy hunting.


]]>

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*