Published October 5, 2010.
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. (goodreads.com)
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up ROT & RUIN. I just knew that I hadn’t heard anything bad about out it or any of Maberry’s other works. Don’t expect me to break that chain either. I thought ROT & RUIN was amazing.
It’s one thing to have a piece of horror focus on the scary: like George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The living dead are supposed to be scary by default and that’s how the book starts off. Zombies that live out in the Rot & Ruin, in the unknown. They kill people. They’re something to be feared and reviled and we’re supposed to applaud those that cut them down.
Benny, just like many other teenage boys, makes rash and emotion-filled decisions without really thinking them through. He hates his brother Tom because he thinks he ran away from their parents instead of helping them. He idolizes Charlie Pink-Eye because he kills the enemy. Getting a job is probably the worst thing that could happen to him right now. Pretty stereotypical teen boy thoughts, I think. But it’s what Maberry does with them, how he forms and moulds Benny into something Benny never thought he could be.
Maberry removed the freak-out horror from a horror setting but in a good way. Zombies are still things to be feared, but as we piggyback along with Benny, we come to the same realizations that Benny does – zombies were people once too. Little by little Tom breaks down Benny’s facade, chips away at his barriers and gets him to see the truth. Sure, zombies should be feared but they also deserve respect. It’s amazing how far a little psychology could go.
Tom employs a different tactic for dealing with zombies, one that he tries to enforce on Benny. Benny, begrudgingly, adopts it but after a while, he does realize it’s a better method. It’s a hard lesson he has to learn but playing with your food before you eat it isn’t necessary 99% of the time.
And I’d be a big fat crank of a liar if I said I wasn’t crying at the end of the book. It was the nail in the coffin so to speak and while you can kind of see it coming, you can’t really brace yourself for what happens. Benny does not escape learning some horribly hard lessons but he takes them all in stride and the growth he shows by the end of the book is astronomical. One of the blurbs on the back of the hardcover is Nancy Holder saying, “George Romero meets THE CATCHER IN THE RYE . . .” and I really couldn’t agree anymore.
There is so much more to ROT & RUIN than just zombies. It’s a coming of age, lessons-learned story with the horror of the undead thrown in. And don’t forget the snark. There’s snark in spades here. You’ll be equal parts engrossed and terrified. Turning the pages will be automatic and something you won’t want to stop doing. If you want a new perspective on zombies and read an absolutely amazing story at the same time, read ROT & RUIN now. You won’t regret it.
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