Title: Rot & Ruin
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Series: Benny Imura (#1)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 9-14-10
Genre: Young Adult, Post-Apocalyptic, Paranormal, Coming-Of-Age
In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.
While this book was well-written and had good character development, I think that I would’ve liked it more, had I been a 15-year-old boy. I figured out the big twist early on, and I thought that the main character was pretty annoying. As my first-ever zombie book, I think that it’s a good “zombie beginner” book, but I wasn’t really in love with it.
For some reason, going into this book, I thought that it was going to be humorous. I was anticipating something like what I’ve heard Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies is like. There are a few funny parts, but it isn’t meant to be a work of humor. Maberry uses the circumstance of a zombie apocalypse in order to fuel the main idea behind this novel — Benny’s coming of age story.
His world had changed again, and he knew it. This time it had not been the removal of veils from naïve eyes. Benny knew that much for sure. No, this time he felt as if a piece of him had been carved out, forcibly taken, thrown away… It was a dead place on his soul, as insensate as scar tissue and as violently earned.
I always get excited to read YA books with a male perspective. It’s so rare, that it automatically makes the book special (although not necessarily good, of course). If I had known that this was a “coming of age” story to begin with, I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up. Benny’s character is annoying and immature in the beginning, and you are waiting for him to finally grow up for the whole novel.
So, I wasn’t in love with the narrator, but I understand that it’s realistic (he’s only 15), and that the author needed to start with him like that in order to have him make a dynamic change by the ending. I think that I would’ve been more okay with the narration if the book hadn’t been 500 pages long. That’s long for YA. I didn’t feel like the length was necessary in order to pull off what the author was trying to do, and it ended up dragging for me a little bit.
Even though Benny as a main character was kind of annoying, that doesn’t mean that Maberry’s writing was bad; his writing was actually very good. I really enjoyed the dialogue in the story, and all of the relationships between the characters. Benny’s family and the town had an interesting and significant backstory that helped make the characters well-developed. The world-building was also superb.
“The only thing more powerful than fear is routine. Once people are in a rut, it’s sometimes the hardest thing in the world to get them out of it. They defend the routine, too. They say that it’s a simpler life, less stressful and complicated, more predictable…It’s fearful, but it’s safe. At least they think it is.”
Tom was my favorite character in this book. As Benny’s older brother, I think I could relate to him a little bit more then Benny, as I am closer in age to him. He comes off as being smart and a good role model, but also very reserved and mysterious. As the novel goes on, Benny and the reader end up learning a lot more about him, and he becomes even more endearing as time goes on.
“Every dead person out there deserves respect. Even in death. Even when we fear them. Even when we have to kill them. They aren’t ‘just zoms,’ Benny. That’s a side effect of a disease or from some kind of radiation or something else that we don’t understand. I’m no scientist, Benny. I’m a simple man doing a job.”
I also really liked Maberry’s version of a love triangle. There is almost no romance in this novel — it’s mostly focused on the bonds of friendship and family — but there are times when Benny contemplates starting a relationship. But he is torn between one of his best friends and an enigmatic zombie-fighting girl that he knows nothing about. I really liked how his connection to his friend was a really important element to the story, but not much of the novel was really focused on the romantic aspect of it. It was there, but it was all in the background.
I did have to deduct 1/2-1 star because of the fact that there’s a pretty big twist that happens at the end of the book that I saw coming a mile away. I was annoyed that it was so obvious, although who knows if I would’ve figured it out as a 15-year-old reader.
“‘Legal?'” Tom gave a bitter laugh. “There’s no law past the fence line. What’s done in the Ruin, stays in the Ruin.”
Ultimately, I thought this book was entertaining and very well written. The world-building alone is a great reason to read this book, as there are a lot of post-apocalyptic novels that lack the strong foundation that Rot and Ruin has in spades. While I found Benny slightly annoying, I wouldn’t say that he is excessively so, and it did enable him to grow as the novel went on.