Benny Imura was appalled to learn that the Apocalypse came with homework.
Thus begins Jonathan Maberry's new teen novel Dust & Decay, the eagerly-anticipated sequel to his 2010 novel Rot & Ruin.
Benny Imura is a likable hero both for his strengths and his weaknesses. At the beginning of Rot & Ruin, we were more aware of his weaknesses: he was a scared, skinny kid who didn't know what was really going on in the zombie-populated wasteland that surrounded their town. Benny also disliked and distrusted his older brother Tom, because he thought that Tom was a coward.
By the time that Dust & Decay opens, many things have changed. Benny has spent months in training, becoming a tougher, stronger fighter. He's been to the wasteland and back, and the experience of what he saw and what he had to do in order to survive changed him. He's learned about what kind of person Tom really is and has grown to admire him. He still cares about Nix, with her fiery red hair and her amazing eyes, and now he understands and appreciates her on a different level than before.
Now Benny has a mission. Or more precisely, there's a mission to investigate a mystery in the wasteland, and Benny is swept up in this mission because it's important to Tom, and it's important to Nix. But even though Benny is bigger and stronger and braver than before (and as he's getting older he's leaving his childhood behind and becoming a man), he's still worried. Because going on this mission means leaving his town, his home, and some of his closest friends behind. And also because going on this mission means that he might never return.
You might be wondering if it's possible to read Dust & Decay if you haven't read the first book in the series, Rot & Ruin. The answer is yes and no. Technically, yes, it's possible. Maberry does an excellent job of refreshing readers' memories of the first book through the characters' thoughts and conversations, as well as through excerpts from Nix's journal. So yes, if you picked up Dust & Decay first, you would be brought up to speed within the first couple of chapters. However, I would recommend that you should ABSOLUTELY read Rot & Ruin before you pick up Dust & Decay, because while you can start with the second book and wrap your mind around the facts of the first book, wrapping your heart around the emotions of Rot & Ruin is something else entirely. Rot & Ruin is one of the most emotional young adult novels I've read in a while, and while that's something you might expect from a realistic fiction story, you might not expect it from a horror/suspense/zombie story.
So go out and get yourself a copy of Rot & Ruin. Then, after you've stopped shivering, dried your tears, and taken some time to let that story settle into your soul, get a copy of Dust & Decay so that you can find out what happens next.