Author: Johnathan Maberry
Series: Benny Imura #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: January1, 2010
Source: Recieved through the Spring Book Exchange!
In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash—but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.
Benny Imura lives in a world that has known zombies for decades. The panic of The First Night is long forgotten in the shadow of the Rot& Ruin...or what is left of the world outside barricaded cities. There are no mad dashes from terrifying zombie whordes in this book. There is no mass-panic, little infection, and actually not a whole lot of rotting corpses...no...there's a quieter and much more insidious kind of fear that trickles along your spine while your reading. The cold clammy fear creeps along without you realizing it as you read until it has you by a choke hold and you're gripping your pages so hard you can't feel your fingers.
It's odd, but Maberry almost leaves you feeling sorry for the zombies. In so many zombie books it's all about the slashing with machetes, exploding heads with shotguns, and all sorts of gory violence. A lot of the time the characters forget that these things were once their friends, family, and neighbors. Those who are sympathetic towards zombies are often regarded as fools and tend to die for their beliefs when their mother-in-law snacks on their face. But in Rot& Ruin we get to see a time long after the panic of a world where the dead rise. For the most part, these are just sad remnants of loved ones who aren't at rest and never will be unless someone takes care of it. That's where Tom, Benny's older brother comes in. He's a bounty hunter. In charge of bringing back the heads of missing/zombified loved ones for a price...
Like I said before, this book doesn't have a lot of the standard zombie book elements. Zombies are just part of Benny's world. He's growing up in a world that considers rotting bodies that can walk and kill you as normal. So his story is more about finding himself, dealing with his brother and his tumultuous relationship, and being in love in a world that is entirely different than our own. Sure we have mean girls and jocks in high school...but in this world the cheerleaders will quite literally eat you alive. Benny's character really grows and flourishes as the book goes on. Initially I'm not afraid to admit that I kind of hated him a little. He seemed so immature and brattish...whining about how he hates his brother and complaining that he doesn't want to get a job. Tom was actually a sort of foil. He was calm when Benny was hot-headed and rash, logical where Benny was ruled by his irrational teenage hormones. Still, as Benny starts to really learn what Tom does out in the Rot & Ruin he begins to grow as a person and became someone I actually liked.
It seems that there is a theme in Zombie literature lately, and it revolves around zombies not being the bad guys after all. We get to see the perverse nature of humans when we discover the truly horrific Gameland, where bounty hunters kidnap children and have them fight zombies and each other while the hunters gamble and make money. I also thought that the attitude of Benny and Tom's town was pretty interesting. They have glommed onto the idea that technology brought the fall of man upon them so they behave in back-woods superstitious ways. It really makes you think about what would happen if the rug was pulled out from under us, technologically speaking. If we no longer could communicate at the touch of a button, if there was no longer higher education and your city was your whole world, what kind of quirks would each city posses. We could devolve back into polytheism...worshipping the sun and the stars. We could become extremely devout and live as monks/nuns did. There really is no end to the possibilities once you've eliminated means of communication. Without seeing what everyone else is up to, towns and populations become secluded and almost primitive in their behaviors...definitely an interesting read and full of possibilities for other town.
I thought Rot & Ruin was an absolutely fantastic book. A definite 5 Keys! I loved that the story was told through Benny's eyes and that he made mistakes and had his work cut out for him. Maberry truly creates a fascinating world full of mystery, heart, and of course...lots and lots of shambling zombies. The characters are living breathing people and they come to life in a way that makes you want to get to know them on a deeper level. There's lots of action in this story paired with characters that seem far more mature than a lot of the characters in YA literature right now. Any fan of YA fiction or Zombies in general will eat this story like a Romero zombie with brains.