The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 6, 2011

Cari Rerat, book review: Booking at convention leads to discovery of great zombie story

By Cari Rerat
Globe Columnist


"Rot & Ruin" by Jonathan Maberry

For teens

I picked “Rot & Ruin” up because I’m a nerd.

I am not a zombie nerd (though I firmly believe that the zombie apocalypse is inevitable and know what three things I will have with me at its onset thanks to an icebreaker at one of our teen programs) and I’m not a complete comic book nerd.

I’m a research nerd. I’ve been planning to go to Planet Con in Kansas City for several weeks and I figure if there are famous and semi-famous people there for me to talk to, I ought to know who they are and why they were invited to a comic convention.

“Rot & Ruin” was at the heart of an unusual trifecta for me. Jonathan Maberry was on the list of notables at Planet Con (he has since cancelled), I needed something new to read, and “Rot & Ruin” was on the new teen fiction shelves.

The story: Benny Imura was 18 months old on First Night when the dead rose and the world changed. Even though he was so young, Benny vividly remembers his dad as a zombie and his mother screaming while she hands Benny to his older brother Tom.

Benny also remembers how Tom took him and ran. Tom ran away from their house and didn’t do anything to help their parents. That memory has shaped Benny’s views of life tremendously. He believes his brother is a coward no matter how many people speak of Tom’s bravery and Benny believes that all zombies (called “zoms” in the story) are evil creatures who deserve to be exterminated.

Benny can’t reconcile the fact that his brother is in the zom-killing business just like his hero, Charlie Matthias. Benny never tires of Charlie’s stories about his adventures and narrow escapes while killing dozens and dozens of zoms. As far as Benny is concerned, Tom can’t hold a candle to Charlie.

Now that Benny is 15, he needs to get a job in order to keep getting his full rations. Benny and his friend Chong try out all the open positions that seem like they will provide the maximum reward for minimum effort. Unfortunately, they are completely bored or seriously grossed out by all of them.

As a last resort, Benny accepts Tom’s offer to join the “family business” of zombie killing. When Tom takes Benny outside the fence into the Rot and Ruin where thousands of zombies roam, Benny’s notions about Tom, zombies, and true courage begin to change.

Maberry’s storytelling is fast paced and exciting and his character development is superb. Zombies are a big part of this novel, but it’s more of a human story than a zombie story.

There are glimpses of the typical zombie apocalypse in the flashbacks to First Night and in some brushes with masses of zombies in the Rot and Ruin. But for the most part, zombies are background to the real story and to Benny’s development. Benny is an incredibly believable, highly intelligent 15-year-old and his friends’ quirky personalities add depth to Benny’s character.

While readers may understand where Benny’s revelations will lead fairly early on, there are sufficient twists and turns in the plot that readers will enjoy the entire ride. In other words, as the plot thickens, pages fly. This is a must read for all teens and adults.

Now that I’ve read “Rot & Ruin” and loved it so much, I am very sad that Mr. Maberry won’t be at Planet Con. Maybe next year.