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 too 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.
Soon Benny realizes the zombies are bad but they might not be the only monsters in Rot & Ruin (2010) by Jonathan Maberry.
Rot & Ruin 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 one because not only did I expect it to drag but I also worried it would be too gross or too scary.
I was so, so, wrong to be worried about this book.
Rot & Ruin has everything I wanted from 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 is the fact that Maberry’s zombie interpretation (and story) is clever and original. Benny lives in a diverse world filled with shades of grey. Some of those greys happen to be zombies, 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. It’s a fact. The really brilliant thing about Rot & Ruin is that the story starts with what happens after.
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 also selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils. AND it is also this year’s winner! (Chosen by me and my other lovely panelists! I’m so excited I can finally tell you all, dear readers, how much I loved this book!)
Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (editors), Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Generation Dead by Dan Waters
Exclusive Bonus Content: This book also has some really cool endpapers. Not to get too far into the plot but trading cards feature strongly in Rot & Ruin. Some of the more relevant cards (and a special one for Maberry himself) are featured on the endpapers of the book. Rob Sachetto did all of the illustrations (and one of the book’s characters shares his name). The cards add to the books quirky charm that tells everyone this book is going to be something special. I also like that Maberry named a character for the real artist.
(Fun Fact: Dan Brown’s Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon was named after the artist who created the font for the ambigram of the title that appeared on the original paperback title page of Angels and Demons.)
UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Devinn for noticing a few name typos in this review and bringing them to my attention! (I cannot post your other comment because it is too much of a spoiler–sorry.)