Category: guest blog

Special book review: Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry

book review, guest blog, writing parent September 5, 2012

I’m a reader, a writer, and a mom. I love sharing my enthusiasm for reading and writing with my kids. Thankfully, both of my kids are readers and budding writers. Right now they love to write comic books and I can’t tell you how many notebooks we’ve gone through writing and illustrating the Pencil Wars or the Ninja Granny. When summer break started in June, I knew I would need to keep the momentum going for the entire summer.

One of the projects I decided to take on with my older son was reading a YA series with him and discussing it along with asking him to write about it. After a lot of searching and finding mostly female-centric books on the store shelves, we chose Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series. We were both excited to start the series, for different reasons. I met Mr. Maberry when he spoke to my graduate program at Seton Hill University and we actually read Patient Zero as an assigned reading for the program. I loved Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger books and I’m a zombie fan. Jacob was excited to read a story with a male protagonist after having read The Hunger Games, and he also loves monsters. I was sad to find there were only two books available, but we decided to not let it stop us.

Our copy. Jake read it first and I wasn’t sure he would give it to me.

A couple months ago I discovered the next installment in the Rot and Ruin series would be released in September. I contacted Mr. Maberry and explained my project with Jacob and my desire to do a blog series on the importance of giving boys strong protagonists, the gender gap in YA lit, the current popularity of dystopian fiction among the young adult crowd, and my appreciation of his books. He very graciously sent us an advanced reader copy of the third book in his Benny Imura series. Flesh and Bone chronicles the continued adventures of Benny and his crew.

Jake and I both agreed this book is a little different from the first two. Benny, Nyx, Chong, and Lilah have left the safe haven of Mountainside in search of other people and a clue as to whether or not civilization still exists. New characters appear in the great Rot and Ruin and a few old friends, as well. The repercussions human control disappearing are explored. The zombies are different, too, and the kids are left wondering if the infectious agent is mutating.

Mr. Maberry states in the author’s note that the book deals with grief, and it certainly does. There is a sense of loss throughout the book, and many major changes in the lives of the characters. The topic that drew my attention, however, is religion. This book is focused closely on religion and cult behavior. While no modern religion is targeted (e.g. Christianity or Islam), some older faiths are put in the spotlight along with a few elements of modern faiths. This gave Jake and I another topic of discussion and opened up a line communication between us that lead to good questions. I appreciate the way Mr. Maberry dealt with this topic. He shows the dangers of accepting authority without questioning and blind faith while still showing respect to faith in general. I do think Jake picked up on this, and it works very well in the story.

Here is Jacob’s take on Flesh and Bone (warning, he did use a spoiler or two):

Hello, I am Jacob Hopeman and I will be writing this review for Flesh and Bone from a young readers standpoint. I think it is the coolest thing to be able to read a book before its release.

Benny and his friends get back to their quest but are all still shaken up a little after Gameland. When they start moving, all of the zoms are different, faster. Some zoms are even smarter than before. And as they make their way through their quest, they find another force, not just the zoms, is trying to stop them. One word, they call themselves Reapers.

The Reapers startled me at first because they just kind of appeared and then someone was dead. I thought the Reapers were unexpected, but were a good twist to the story.

Benny was my favorite character because so much was going on with him. He was trying to be like Tom yet his friends thought he was pushing it a little too far. He was battling physically yet also mentally. He was fighting mentally for Tom and physically for his life.

One of the questions left at the end of Flesh and Bone is whether Chong actually live through the zombie virus he gets or will the people let him die. Another question left at the end is what the group will do next to survive and keep the world alive.
I, personally, liked the book. That is because it has a lot of twists and turns. Like when a zom bites Chong. Also I like it how Benny still kind of has Tom there so he doesn’t do anything dumb. I also think it was cool how they had Joe Ledger in the book because my mom says he’s really awesome.

I would recommend the book to a friend if they had read the other two otherwise you would be clueless about whats happening. I would definitely recommend the whole series. Go buy it!

P.S.: That zombie card is really cool. Thanks Mr. Maberry!  You’re the best!

I’m so glad I could share this great series with my son. I can’t wait for the younger son to be old enough to read it.

Thank you so much, Mr. Maberry, for writing a series that gets the young male readers reading with enthusiasm, and for being so kind to Jake and me.

Flesh and Bone is due for release on September 11, 2012 from Simon and Schuster. You can preorder this book, and get the entire series, from many online retailers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Guest blog: The importance of choice in creating readers

genre fiction, guest blog, reading, writing life, writing parent August 29, 2012

One of the reasons I love Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series so much is that it provides choice for young male readers. In a bookstore filled with female protagonists, Maberry offers a cast of strong male protagonists alongside the strong females. Benny is so identifiable and Tom is a great role model.

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Sara Kajder. Sara has worked in both university settings and in grade schools, but has loved working with middle school learners. She has a background in English literature and received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Also important to this blog series, she’s the mom of two boys. As an educator and a parent, she understands the unique challenges in fostering interest in reading among the boys. In this guest blog she tackles the gender gap in literacy. As she points out, examining the choices that our kids are making in reading material is key to fostering their interest. Maberry’s books have been a great choice for us.

“I teach eighth grade English in a curriculum that is chock-full of the standard-faire… Grammar.  Vocabulary.  Etymology.  Writing.  And, oh yeah – reading.  Lots and lots of reading.  For some reason, this seems to be the area in which I receive the most “Bless your heart” comments when catching up with old friends or describing my work when meeting new ones.  This is followed by a nod of a head, a sigh, and the lament that “Those boys just don’t read…”

Looking across my summer reading list last night, some bits of that did look to be true.  In a randomly chosen class of 18 (with 12 boys and 6 girls), the female students out-read the boys by 3 books to 1.  According to their initial reflective writing, 3 of my 12 boys were gregarious readers with the other 9 quick to embrace the title of “non-reader.”  Their entries describing their reading were notably brief, as was their list of favorite authors, books re-read, and time, on average, spent reading each day.

Here’s the thing… None of this surprised me.  And, bigger – I, and loads of reading scholars and researchers, believe that a real literacy gap doesn’t exist.  Yes, some boys can take longer to learn how to read.  And, yes, significantly more boys than girls, especially adolescents, will label themselves non-readers.  However, given the opportunity to self-select titles from lists which understand their interests, my male students will rise – and quickly.  ALL readers become better readers by reading more, whether they are girls or boys.  I work hard as an English teacher to build reading communities in my classroom, so boys have the opportunity to recommend books to one another (as we all know that peer to peer connections are infinitely powerful).  My role is to support, to facilitate, to know students (and books) well enough to know what might ignite a particular fire in a reader, and to constantly seek out model readers with whom male students (and female ones, too) can see, question, hear, and emulate.

Readers who are skillful, passionate, habitual and critical grow from powerful interactions with texts that actually act on them.  My boys don’t usually get that from the now abundant female-protagonist, post-apocalyptic YAL that line the shelves of our local bookstore.  Their choices do fall into some of the patterns/myths that you’d expect – nonfiction abounds alongside graphic novels, science fiction, and the growing list of series about sports and adolescent athletes.   Independent (read: not on the school-approved list) choices this summer ranged from Conan-Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville to Meyers’ Fallen Angels to Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.  They weren’t drawn to Sarah Dessden’s approach to writing about relationships, but they did connect with Walter Dean Myer’s work that does explore relationships between men across contexts ranging from scenes of combat to competition the soccer field.

We discussed their choices in class today, and the predominant message was one that centered on the power of choice.  Building life-long readers is about helping students to make smart choices about their reading.  Adult readers revel in our idiosyncrasies and expect the freedom of choice.  The boys in my classes need to do the same.  Students talked about making reading easy and inviting, which often means backing off of our expectation that all texts be “literature” and making room for alternative modes and media.  Even bigger, my students talked about time.  We live in a time that is marked by speed and an odd push to make sure that we schedule every second of our children’s time.  Malcolm Gladwell talks in Outliers about expertise as something that can only happen once we spend at least ten thousand hours engaged in a particular practice.  From school, most of my students head to at least two athletic practices (or a game) per evening, not counting the time needed for homework and other commitments like music and rehearsals.  Reading stamina is important. You can only get it by reading regularly and building the “muscle memory” that helps students identify what makes good writing work.   Summer seemed to provide the single space for the majority of my boys to slow, to pick up a book, and to get lost in story.

All readers deserve the opportunity to become better readers.  Choice, time, and stamina… I’ve written all three into a heading for my planning book for the term, and, just as importantly, I  have them saved as a prompt to remind me as a mother of two boys to foster growth in my own sons.  It’s amazing what we can learn from kids when we listen to their practices, their choices, and what they have to say.”

Many thanks to Dr. Kajder for taking the time to talk with us!

Guest Blog: Dystopian fiction with author Jenn Loring

guest blog, mixed genre, reading August 22, 2012

My love for Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series is firmly established. While I’m thrilled that my son also loves the books, I’m also curious as to what makes these kinds of settings so universally popular across generations. While I appreciate the dystopian setting for my own adult reasons, what attracts a younger reader to such a depressing world? It’s lots of fun to create our family’s zombie apocalypse survival plan over dinner, but by reading Maberry’s series with my son, we’ve been able to broach some heavier subjects like bullying and grief. What draws a carefree twelve-year old into dystopian stories?

Jennifer Loring, fellow author and my guest blogger for today, has some excellent thoughts on this subject, as follows.

The dystopia has been a fixture in science fiction and horror almost since the inception of those genres. Wikipedia defines a dystopia as “the idea of a society, generally of a speculative future, characterized by negative, anti-utopian elements, varying from environmental to political and social issues.” A number of the 20th century’s great works of fiction, including Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, are dystopias that explore the political and social issues present in a society ruled by an autocratic government. In recent years, however, dystopian fiction and its close relative, post-apocalyptic fiction, have enjoyed their greatest popularity in young adult novels. What draws countless teens to depictions of an utterly dismal future, and what can we learn about the modern young reader from the success of these books?

While Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series preceded it, the success of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy thrust the YA dystopian into the spotlight, where it has continued to thrive ever since. As the YA market in general evolves, darker and edgier themes have become the norm, and nowhere is this more evident than in the dystopian. A number of reasons for the genre’s popularity have been debated by fans, critics, and scholars alike; here we will examine several of the most prevalent theories. The first is that teens today are more aware of current social and political problems, and that YA dystopians are a warning of danger to come. In the age of the Internet and instant news, few teenagers can claim ignorance of the world around them. The YA dystopian speaks to the notion that there may not be a future if teens are not proactive in recognizing the problems that affect all of us and doing their part to help steer us away from the cliff. The choices a teen makes can have just as much impact as those of an adult. It can also warn against the perils of unrestrained technological advances, an important point to make for young readers who frequently believe they cannot live without smartphones, iPods, and video game consoles.

The protagonists of both YA and adult dystopias often rebel against society and its oppressive rules. Teens naturally find this appealing, as they typically live under their parents’ roofs and spend most of their days in an overbearing high school environment. Dystopian protagonists act out teenaged rebellion on an epic scale, and in the service of freeing their fellow citizens from repression; thus teens can live vicariously through them. In these books teens are the heroes, the possessors of the knowledge and power to reshape society, whereas in their daily lives they may feel like powerless children subject to the rules of parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Jana Riess notes in What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, “…sometimes people reach heightened maturity more by questioning authority than by obeying it” (73). Authority itself is not evil, but blind obedience to and abuse of it is, and dystopian authors instill in their readers a healthy distrust of anyone who claims to have one’s best interests at heart. These young protagonists have become their own moral agents, and they must overthrow that which conflicts with what they know to be right and wrong. In school teens contend with bullying, peer pressure, violence, and many other concerns. At home the issues may be even worse. Novels set in repressive societies in which only teens have the strength and wisdom to topple the socio-political order become powerful metaphors for the daily struggles of modern teenagers.

That said, the final reason so many teens have embraced YA dystopian may be the simplest: these books illustrate how much worse their lives could be. Whatever the challenges posed by school, parents, or peers, the teens reading YA novels are not forced to kill each other, harvested for body parts, retroactively aborted, exiled from their communities, imprisoned in fortresses, advertised as sexual objects, or experimented on, all at the hands of their governments. YA dystopian stories lend perspective to teens who are so often tempted to melodramatically declare that their lives “suck.” The imaginations of YA dystopian authors can envision far greater horrors than the average teen reader is likely to ever encounter, thus engendering a sense of sympathy for those less fortunate, whether it is for a teenager in a fictional future world, or a child on the other side of the planet who does not have enough to eat. YA dystopian’s greatest strength lies in its ability to make readers think about the world in a way they may not have before and, most importantly, to recognize that what truly matters comes from within.

As global crises such as climate change, war, or the possibility of a new pandemic loom ever larger, the market for YA dystopian fiction shows little sign of slowing down. Whether the events depicted in these books ever come to pass remains to be seen, but they have much to teach us about ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, the generations who will inherit the world we leave behind.

References:
Riess, Jana. What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2004.

Jennifer Loring has published nearly 30 short stories and poems in various webzines, magazines and anthologies, and received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for her short story “The Bombay Trash Service.” She holds a BA in studio art from Mercyhurst College and is studying for her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Jenn also works as an editor for Musa Publishing’s YA imprint, Euterpe, and writes for Horrornews.net. You can find her online at http://jenniferloring.wordpress.com.

Book review: Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry

book review, guest blog, reading, writing parent August 15, 2012

I love to see my kids read. Creating a reader requires material that excites them, that keeps them interested. In today’s world of fast-paced video games and thirty-minute cartoons, this isn’t easy. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series fits the bill and then some. It engages young male readers with a dystopian story of survival in a zombie wasteland, and fills a void left by many of the YA dystopian books on the shelves.

Last week I offered reviews of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin from both myself and the target audience. Today I have similar reviews of the second installment in the Benny Imura series, Dust and Decay.

I loved the second book as much as the first. We return to our favorite characters, Benny, Nix, Tom, Chong, and Lilah as they prepare to leave Mountainside for good in search of an elusive vision they hope will lead them to more humans and some semblance of civilization. New characters join our merry band along the way, including a pair of 30-something surfer dudes who made me chuckle. I’m not sure the target demographic will appreciate J-Dog and Dr. Skillz the same way I do, but that’s okay. I always appreciate the kids’ movies that include humor for the adults, so this just added a little something for me. Sally Two-Knives became a solid favorite for me– a strong female character with a wry and wicked sense of humor.

The journey, which begins as a short test of their ability to survive in the great Rot and Ruin, quickly turns into the fight of their lives. A nightmare returns, a wicked place surfaces, and Benny and the crew must banish their demons once and for all. A price is paid, and we’re left wondering where our friends will go and how they will get there.

This book offered many of the same discussion opportunities with my son as the first. We talked about trust, since Benny and the crew find themselves in several situations in which they have to choose whether or not to trust someone they don’t know. We touched on personal responsibility even in the face of humiliation when one of our characters makes a choice that endangers the entire group. These are excellent discussion points for kids, and the subject matter helps to get boys talking.

Here’s our guest review for the day:

I am Jacob Hopeman and I’m back to write this review of Dust and Decay from a young readers standpoint.

Benny Imura, Nix Riley, Tom Imura, Lilah, and Chong want to leave the town and search for a jet that they had seen earlier. Also Gameland is back and working so they have to destroy it once and for all. Plus Charlie Pink Eye has come back to haunt them in a zombified form.

The book is different from Rot and Ruin because they don’t just go out and back in town. They want to leave town so they are always in danger and they are not just learning to fight, they have to use the skills Tom taught them.

Benny Imura is my favorite character again because in this book he takes a part time leadership role in my perspective. He also has to do most of the thinking because he isn’t the best fighter in the group anymore. He also leads them through a bunch of twists and turns. All of this I like a about a certain character.

I like the book because it has a definite amount of suspense like when the thousands of zombies come pouring down the hill right to where Benny is. Also because, like Rot and Ruin, Dust and Decay has happy and sad parts. Examples are: Sad: Lilah has been living alone on her wits for so many years and its kind of sad that she had to be alone. Or, Happy: they live through the giant zombie attack.

I would most certainly recommend it my friends because the book itself is a very good read.

PS: Thanks again, Mr. Maberry!

In the coming weeks we’ll feature two guest bloggers discussing both the recent popularity of dystopia fiction and the importance of creating young readers. We’re most excited to offer a prerelease review of the upcoming installment to the Rot and Ruin series, Flesh and Bone, due out on September 11, 2012.

Book review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathon Maberry

book review, genre fiction, guest blog, writing parent August 8, 2012

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.