Benny Imura needs a job. He’s 15 years old 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, and 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 possibly getting infected. And pit raker, well, pit raker is exactly what it sounds like.
With no better options, Benny finds himself a reluctant apprentice 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 Sam might be a lot more than Benny ever gave him credit for.
In Rot & Ruin (2010) by Jonathan Maberry, Benny realizes the zombies may be bad, but they might not be the only monsters.
The book far exceeded my expectations.
To understand why, you have to understand that I’m on Team Unicorn.
I had heard about the book before it came out and was intrigued, but after reading Zombies vs. Unicorns and struggling with the zombie stories, I started to think I wasn’t a zombie person. I was worried about reading this Rot & Ruin because not only did I expect it to drag, I also worried it would be too gross or too scary.
I was so, so, wrong to be worried about this book.
Rot & Ruin had everything I want from a good book. It’s the zombie book I’ve been hoping for.
Zombies are everywhere in young adult literature right now — throw a rock and you’ll hit a book about the zombie apocalypse. What sets Rot & Ruin apart from other titles is the fact that Maberry’s zombie interpretation (and story) is both clever and original. Benny lives in a diverse world filled with shades of grey. Some of those greys happen to be zombies, while some are not. Furthermore, this isn’t a story about surviving the zombie apocalypse or beating the zombies. That isn’t happening; the humans lost the battle. It’s a fact. The really brilliant thing about Rot & Ruin is that the story starts with what happens afterwards.
Everything about this book works. The story doesn’t open with a lot of action, but readers are immediately drawn into Benny’s world and the bizarre and sometimes hysterical reality of his life after the zombie apocalypse. Rot & Ruin is serious; it’s a page turner. But it’s also really funny. Maberry’s writing is clever throughout, with the perfect blend of plot development, world building, and character exposition.
Rot & Ruin was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils Awards, an an annual award from book bloggers honoring children's and young adult books, and is this year's winner! (I had the honor of being a part of the Cybils Awards this year and was on the science fiction and fantasy panel for young adults.) It's great to finally share how awesome this book really is!
Possible pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (editors), Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, and Generation Dead by Dan Waters.