Rot & Ruin- Jonathan Maberry

Benny Imura lives in a post-zombie apocalypse world where you have to pick a job when you turn 15.  He reluctantly joins his brother, Tom, in the family business of zombie hunting.  Hunting zombies out in the Rot and Ruin makes Benny grow up fast and forces him to confront the evils of humanity.

I’d never read a book about zombies before, so when I saw this on the Lone Star books display at my public library, I picked it up thinking it would be interesting to try something with zombies and that if it was a Lone Star pick, it would probably be good.  This is a book I have really mixed feelings about.  There was a kernel of a good book here, but the execution just didn’t live up to the idea, unfortunately.

This book was 450 pages and I felt every one of those pages.  I could actually see the author trying to create suspense by writing an entire chapter for something that could have been done in a sentence or two.  For example, Benny sees a jumbo jet fly overhead- something truly strange since his settlement has sworn off electricity and modern technologies.  The author felt the need to make this part into an entire chapter which started off with Benny dreaming about a loud noise and then waking up and finding the noise is real and then running out and looking up at the sky and exclaiming that what he sees is totally unbelievable and he’s never seen one before and then ending with a statement that it was a jumbo jet in the sky.  Seriously?  I knew from the moment they looked at the sky it was an airplane.  I don’t live in a society where airplanes don’t exist.  I don’t need all the explanation.  It did nothing to enhance the story and in fact is just setting you up for book two.  Also, more words and pages doesn’t equal suspense… sometimes more pages just equals boredom!

The author, I think, also chooses to focus on some really dull aspects of his story.  There is this place called Gameland where bad zombie hunters pit kidnapped children against zombies in fights to the (un)death.  And while Gameland is pretty integral to the main conflict in the book, we don’t ever see it.  We just get secondhand stories about the horrors of it.  My best guess is that Gameland is either being saved for a sequel or that it was thought to be too graphic for the audience (not sure how that would work in light of The Hunger Games, but yeah).  It was just a great idea that could have served as a much more interesting way to present the Big Issues and Lesson Learned.

I also think that this could have been a better book if we’d gotten the story from the point of view of Benny’s adult brother, Tom.  Tom was totally badass and had actually lived through the zombie apocalypse and war and had burned down Gameland I (the one in this book is actually the second reincarnation of the place).  Benny was just a whiny teenage boy.  He complained constantly about his big brother and initially hero-worships the evilest character in the book.  It’s not really endearing.  (I will admit that Benny does gets more tolerable as the book goes on and he grows up some.)

I almost gave up on this book, but I didn’t, so obviously there was something worthwhile here.  I liked that the author made a big deal of the fact that zombies are not conscious of the fact that they are harming people and are therefore less morally bad than the bad guys who CHOOSE to harm other people.  It was just interesting that the biggest threat to people in a zombie-filled world is other people.

I really think this is a book meant for 13 year old boys who don’t do a lot of reading.  As I don’t fall into that category, I think whatever charm this book had was (mostly) lost on me.

Divergent- Veronica Roth

Divergent was a great read.  I have been big into the dystopian thing lately, so was really excited to find this book.  In Roth’s dystopian Chicago, there are 5 factions– Amity, Candor, Erudite, Dauntless, and Abnegation.  Each person chooses one faction when they are sixteen years old.  One’s faction determines their career, their family and friends, and their personality.  Supposedly keeping people in factions based on their best traits will eliminate the evil traits in human beings and end war and misery.  The faction-choosing reminded me a bit of the career-assignment in The Giver.  Except that in Roth’s book the kids had at least the appearance of free choice in picking their faction.

Our main character is Beatrice AKA Tris, a born-and-raised Abnegation.  She takes the faction assessment given to kids before they get to the choosing ceremony and finds out that she doesn’t fit into any faction– she is Divergent.  Divergence is dangerous and Tris is told to hide her results from everyone, even her parents.  She makes the difficult decision of going Dauntless and this book covers her training and initiation into the Dauntless faction and the dangers of Divergence.

There were several things I really liked about this book.  The first is Tris.  While she is way more of a daredevil than I’ll ever be, I felt myself relating to her in some ways.  She is skilled in more than one way- she is a bit Dauntless, a bit Abnegation, and a bit Erudite- and while being well-rounded sounds like a great thing, it makes it really difficult for her to choose one path or to fit in easily in any one faction.  (Side note: I always felt that way when I was choosing a major in college… so I ended up choosing a liberal arts degree with multiple concentrations- history, literature, philosophy, foreign languages, and then rounded out my electives with math, science, and social sciences.  Same thing in grad school, where I ended up specializing in the history of medicine with a focus on women and gender.  I can’t pick just one thing, apparently.)  She is also incredibly smart and cares deeply about her family…

…which brings me to the second thing I really liked about this book.  I loved how important Tris’s family was to her and how much her parents were willing to sacrifice for her.  I sometimes feel like YA characters exist in this weird universe where teenagers are free of parents and siblings.  (I love John Green, but his characters are frequently only children.  Which drives me bonkers.)  And if they actually have families, there is often not much love involved.  (I know, I know, characters are so much more FUN without the tethers of families.)  So, thank you Veronica Roth, for giving me a teenager who loves her family members, misses them when she leaves them, and recognizes that her family members are multidimensional people who have their own personal struggles.

And the third thing I liked about this book was the romance between Tris and her Dauntless instructor, Four.  Four sort of reminded me of Mr. Rochester as he was all brooding and moody and jerky, but you can still tell he totally digs Tris.  In the end, though, my Mr. Rochester comparison falls apart because Mr. Rochester was actually a pompous jerk and Four seems to be playacting that role to hide his feelings/keep Tris safe.  But anyways, Four was cool because he was okay with being weaker than Tris and was very open and vulnerable around her.  I really love the cool-exterior-but-soft-interior man trope, as horrible as that may be.

Anyways, I enjoyed this book and I think it has a little bit of something for everyone- dystopia, romance, action.  I am eagerly awaiting book numero dos, Insurgent, which comes out in May!

A Monster Calls- Patrick Ness

Image from Goodreads

After striking out on adult fiction this month (see Angelica and Middlesex), I decided to go to the library and check out a bunch of young adult/children’s literature.  This is one of those I picked up, since I was a big fan of Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, had heard lovely things about this book, and also it showed up on the Lone Star List (the Texas Library Association’s picks of the best books for grades 6-8).  I was not disappointed.

This is a beautiful book both in words and in illustrations.  It is the story of Conor O’Malley, a young boy whose mother is seriously ill.  Conor suffers from a recurring nightmare that he refuses to acknowledge.  One night, a monster comes to visit Conor, promising to tell him three tales in exchange for one truthful tale from Conor.  This process helps Conor finally comes to terms with his very conflicted feelings about his mother’s illness.  The ending of this book was perfect (and a bit tearful).

Ness is really masterful at dealing with big issues, in this case grief and loss.  This book deals in particular with shades of gray (interestingly, it is illustrated in black-white-gray) and internal conflicts among those dealing with loss.  Conor feels angry, sad, scared, guilty, and weary all at the same time.  He can both want his mother to survive and want her to die.  His truth is that life is not black and white– that he can still love his mother, even if he wants the struggle of her illness to end.

There isn’t really anything bad I can say about this book.  It is a well-written, thoughtful, beautifully-illustrated, meaningful read.