I have a love-hate relationship with post-apocalyptic novels. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road nearly left me undone. Colson Whitehead’s Zone One showed us the best and worst of people, but left me feeling rather hopeless. The basic struggles of humanity during or after a catastrophic event are heart-wrenching, telling, and can sometimes give a sense of hope in this strange world we occupy.
I love sharing books with my kids. Obviously, there are certain books that would be inappropriate to share, like the above mentioned examples, but I try to read the books they’re interested in so we can discuss them. My older son, Jacob, is twelve. We both read the Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy then went to the movie together to compare it to the book. Like any preteen boy, he likes strong protagonists, a good struggle, some suspense, and if the author can throw in a little violence and monsters, even better.
My son’s biggest gripe with The Hunger Games, and most young adult dystopian fiction, is the lack of a strong male protagonist. The Hunger Games is told from the perspective of Katniss, a girl, and while he enjoyed the story immensely, Jacob wished he’d been able to experience if from a male perspective as well. I guess it has something to do with the whole “girls have cooties” at this age thing.
Imagine my glee to see Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series, with a teenaged boy protagonist. I love Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, beginning with Patient Zero, but they’re not yet appropriate to share with Jacob. Zombies occupy a special place in my heart, and therefore also in the hearts of my kids. How many families discuss their theoretical zombie apocalypse plans over dinner? THIS ONE.
So when I saw the first book in Mr. Maberry’s series, Rot and Ruin, I grabbed it and the second, Dust and Decay, as well. I read both books before I let my son tackle them.
Before I read the book I wondered if it would be too graphic or violent for a twelve year old boy. Nope. I appreciate the restraint Mr. Maberry used with the violence and graphic descriptions, and also with the language. While there is a love interest, something most kids this age are acutely aware of, but may or may not actually be experiencing, there is no sex. Jacob commented after we watched The Hunger Games movie, “At least they left the sex out.” Mr. Maberry obviously understands what a young teen boy wants and does not want to read. I appreciate this.
I considered writing my own reviews of these fantastic books, saying things like the post-zombie-apocalyptic world in which main character Benny Imura experiences adolescence is believable and wonderful. The book starts out with a bang, describing the world in which the teens are struggling to grow and the new, different responsibilities and expectations. Maberry does his usual wonderful job of “showing, not telling” in many ways, including Benny’s job search. At age fifteen the kids are expected to find a job, work, contribute, not just exist any longer. This plot point both showed Rot and Ruin’s society and segued into a great discussion with Jacob about how easy his life is and how his main responsibility is his education. We discussed what he might do if he were in Benny’s shoes.
I would also say something like Benny’s character is so relatable and flawed as to allow an adolescent boy to identify and grow with him. I might also mention that Benny’s brother, Tom, is not just a fluff side character, but a strong male role model for boys who stands up to bullies and encourages Benny to understand the whys and hows of this new world and to not just survive but thrive and make a difference. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Benny’s band of friends, Nix, Morgie, and Chong, and how their close bond allows them to experience a normal adolescence in an abnormal world. I might also be tempted to say that the way the group treats the outcast Lilah is a good lesson in inclusion and understanding others. The lessons taught in this book are invaluable, and they are all couched in an exciting, relatable story that appeals to boys, who generally have been left out of the YA dystopian craze.
But instead of saying all those things, I decided to let the target demographic speak for me. Here, in the words of the young reader, is my guest review:
Hello, I am Jacob Hopeman and I will be writing this review for Rot and Ruin so that there can be a teenagers view on the book.
Rot and Ruin is about a world of post-apocalyptic zombie breakout where people are struggling to survive. Rot and Ruin follows the story of a fifteen-year-old boy named Benny who is trying to find a job. He finds nothing interesting enough so he goes to work with his older brother Tom. Tom is working as a zombie killer. Benny expects the job to be boring. All he thinks his brother is doing is killing zombies ruthlessly for money. What he finds out is something very different.
My favorite character in the novel is Benny. In the beginning he thinks that when he starts as a zombie killer it’s going to be dull. The first time they go out to kill a zombie he sees that Tom is doing things nicely which is a new perspective for him. One group they see is just playing around killing them. Benny doesn’t seem to like it. When he sees what Tom does he finally understands and realizes there is more to his brother and to the world. So Benny as a character is interesting.
I liked Rot and Ruin because of its suspense. It’s basically like “Ohh, is he a zombie?” or “Ohh, is he dead?” at some points and nothing is ever safe. I like how it incorporated some adrenaline as well. All of those parts wanted to make me read the next page. Its emotion also really got me. There were definitely sad parts and definitely happy parts. Examples are when Benny first hears what Tom does. Another example is when Benny finds Tom alive and unbitten after a giant zombie attack.
I would definitely recommend this book to a friend that likes a little mystery and suspense. Also I would recommend it because it is just a good book. I think most of my friends would like this book.
Thank you for your time and consideration to this review. Thanks for everything, Mr. Maberry.