Original Release Date: September 14, 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Kids are funny.
Having had one of my own for the past year-plus now, I am just starting to relate to a lot of the things that parents often say about kids. While my daughter is still young enough to not engage in some of the more severe bad habits many kids form – talking back, temper tantrums, and the like – I do see her already starting to take on one habit I’m not particularly fond of: when I say “no-no” to her, seriously, in an attempt to get her to stop doing something, she almost assuredly continues to do that exact same thing, as if it’s a game to her!
My point is: it’s a well-established fact that may kids, from an early age well into their teens, will do the opposite of what they are told, and in many cases they’ll do it just because it’s an act of defiance for them. Parents are usually asking their children to do or to not do something for a very good reason…but that doesn’t matter to the little ones. All that matters to them is being independent and having some fun.
When you take a book and label it as “Young Adult,” then, you have to be extremely careful, as you are walking a very fine line: you are essentially telling a youngster that the book is specifically for them, which is akin to asking them to read it. Of course, in classic defiant-child fashion, lots of times young adults will actually refuse to read a book labeled as YA – and it often times boils down to what we were talking to above, they just don’t want to be told what to do.
Clever, then, was the marketing for Jonathan Maberry’s novel “Rot & Ruin.” It was released in hardback form first, making for a very “adult-feel” book. The novel itself is huge, clocking in at over 450 pages – granted, the margins are a little wider and the text is a little bit bigger than the average book, but the adroit formatting leads to a book that presents very much as a “big-boy” or “big-girl” novel. Think of the monstrously-huge Harry Potter novels, and you’ll have an understanding for how this appeals to younger readers. Finally, and most importantly, you won’t find the words “young adult” anywhere on the book; in a great “hide in plain sight” approach, the book was given a marketing campaign that informed folks it was a YA-appropriate novel without ever coming out and putting it on the cover.
The best part about “Rot & Ruin,” though: the story itself. Maberry has crafted an amazing tale of post-apocalyptic zombie survival, and he struck the perfect balance between making the story accessible and engaging to both younger readers and adults. The tale is chock-full of unique elements you won’t find in the average tale of the undead apocalypse, and there is a refreshingly-surprising about of “thinker” material mixed in with action, comedy, and emotional scenes.
I can’t possibly summarize the book any better than the oft-used “official” blurb, so I’ll go ahead and quote that before “Rot-ting” right into the Score:
Benny Imura needs a job. He’s fifteen and his rations are going to be cut in half if he doesn’t start contributing to society. Benny isn’t picky. Any job will do as long as it requires minimal effort and doesn’t involve working with his annoying, boring, completely irritating older brother Tom.
But being a locksmith apprentice is boring and involves carrying heavy tools all day. Fence testers have to walk the fence all day rattling it for loose spots that zombies might exploit. It also means possibly getting shot by the twitchy gun bulls because there is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to infection. There’s too much competition selling carpet coats. Pit thrower is too labor intensive. Not to mention it involves throwing “quieted” zombies into a burning pit and maybe getting infected. And pit raker, well, pit raker is exactly what it sounds like.
With no better options, Benny finds himself reluctantly apprenticed to his brother Tom, a zombie killer and “closure specialist”–whatever that means. Benny doesn’t really care. At least he can keep his rations and has a job that sounds moderately cool.
But nothing about dealing with his brother, or the zoms, is anything like Benny expected. Out in the “Rot and Ruin,” where the zombies run loose, is different. Nothing is what Benny thought, not his heroes, not his friend Nix and her mother, and certainly not his hometown. Even Tom might be a lot more than Benny ever gave him credit for.
G: General Entertainment – As I mentioned above, Maberry has done a tremendous job of seamlessly blending so many different “feels” to his story – the quality of writing here goes far beyond what normally passes for “young adult.” I hate to even use that phrase, because I don’t want any adults to feel like they would be “reading down” a level if they grabbed this book, because that is far from the case. Perhaps saying this book is appropriate for “all ages” might be better; certainly, the story is fantastic enough in its own right that it should be enjoyed by readers of all ages. 9/10
O: Original Content – Mayberry taps into a slowly-developing trend for the setting of his story: it is truly “post-apocalyptic” in the literal sense that the tale takes place 15 years after the zombie outbreak began, and the living-human contingency has clearly lost the battle. I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the book by giving too much away here, but just know that there are a plethora of unique elements – including zombie trading cards that fit surprisingly well into the story – that help this book stand out from the crowd. 8/10
R: Realism – Maberry uses emotion as the primary driving force here, and you can feel the very real connections between his characters. Other reviews I have read criticized this area for the characters not being “relatable enough,” but I found that to be with good reason – since many of the main characters are youngsters born into this world of ruin, they obviously have different personality traits and an outlook on life that we today do not. They don’t exactly get the luxury of sitting around with their computer tablets while watching a TV show on their DVR and eating their microwaved dinner, so obviously this group isn’t going to seem immediately relatable to the reader. It’s just one piece of the “reality” puzzle that I think Maberry has constructed quite effectively. 8/10
E: Effects and Editing – As noted above, the book is a big one, but even though it sports 55 chapters (plus an Epilogue that smoothly sets up the sequel) over 458 pages, I read through the book tremendously quickly, and have heard of many other readers who have done the same. The design of the book itself is solid, with great cover graphics and a visual representation on the inside cover of some of the aforementioned zombie trading cards. The cards were drawn by artist Rob Sacchetto, whose book “Zombiewood Weekly” was reviewed by the G.O.R.E. Score previously. 8/10
TOTAL SCORE: 8.25/10
This is the first novel not written by Max Brooks to Score over an 8 in the history of The G.O.R.E. Score. “Rot & Ruin” is quite deserving: readers get everything they want out of a good zombie story delivered directly to them, plus many one-of-a-kind elements and a subtext that has the ability to really make you stop and think about the “bigger picture,” not just about this story but about life in general. Folks, in case you aren’t quite grasping what I’m saying: I highly recommend this book!
And now, my friends, you know the Score!