Rot & Ruin (Benny Imura #1)

End Date:  August 30

Author:  Jonathan Maberry

Published:  2010

Genre:  Young Adult

Pages:  458 (hardcover)

Selected By:  BillMo

Average Score:  Scoring Great Book

“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 elder 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.” – from the Goodreads summary.

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Gigglemug Reviews

BillMo:  Scoring Great Book

I really, really liked this book!  First, it’s zombies – and you can’t go wrong with zombies!  Second, it was surprisingly well-written and very well developed.

No quotes really stood out for me in this novel, but Maberry’s development of First Night and all of the history that gradually seeps out of the supporting characters about how humans ended up living as they are was so excellent!

What I might have liked most about the entire novel was how many different perspectives we were given of the survivors themselves.  There were some who clung to their faith and looked for the flaws within themselves and the rest of the humans around them that might have led to what they saw as God’s final judgment against us; there were those who were aggressively seeking to establish dominance over the frightened flock by any means necessary; there were the ragtag few who desperately clung to their humanity and memories and who hoped to one day reclaim the world from the walking not-quite-dead; and there were the rest – the majority – who just wanted to live to see tomorrow and were content to let madness go on around them, so long as it didn’t directly affect them.

I wish I’d thought to replace the “Which Character Did You Most Identify With” question for this book with “Which Job Do You Think You Would Do”.  If anyone reading this has read the book(s) and wants to give a shout-out in the Discussions section on what job they think they’d do in the Rot and Ruin, please say so!  Personally, I think I’d have ended up being one of the carpet-coat salesmen; I thought I’d be a Watcher, like Chong, but my eyes are just not that good.  🙂  So, carpet-coats it is!

And yes, I’m totally reading the next one and will give an Interim Review on that when I’m done!

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Nix Riley.  I liked that she was one of the stronger females in the novel, and I even found her little meltdown to be quite manageable; I was irrational when I was her age, and I don’t know how I would have managed to overcome what she did as quickly as she did.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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The Divine Ms. Em: Scoring Liked Book

Caveat: A last-minute interruption of a little thing called Life caused an unexpected interruption in my review, but the Cliffs Notes version is:

While I don’t normally like zombie-related media, I have to admit that this book did have a really good story.  The character development was solid, and I really liked the writing style.  The relationship between Benny and Tom Imura played out well; I especially liked Benny’s growth throughout the novel, specifically that the final “lesson” he learned was that true bravery isn’t determined by who is bigger and badder than everyone else, but by who – despite all their struggles – can learn the traits and skills necessary for survival in a brutal and hostile world while still maintaining some measure of their humanity.

I liked how the budding romance between Nix and Benny played out; the author didn’t make it the focus of the story but instead allowed it to give this rough-and-ready tale a sweetness – while avoiding a lot of the sickening saccharine that is evident in a lot of other books in this genre.

Overall, it was a good read, and I may read the next book.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  I had a hard time relating to anyone, actually.  If I had to pick, I’d probably say Lou Chong or Nix Riley, but even then the characters were so different that it’s hard to say.

Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Lady Esbe:  Scoring Loved Book

Favorite book so far!!!  I know I said that before, but this has bumped the previous winner out of its spot.  Thank you Billmo, excellent choice!  This book has the makings of a Justin Cronin “The Passage” novel, it falls short, just a little.  However, I say this is an excellent effort on the part of the author in the young adult genre.  I can honestly say, this is the third time in about 3 years that I have been mentally distraught over the fate of the characters (the other two being  “The Twelve”by Justin Cronin and “Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes)

There have been many books set in the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse; however, this is one that is more than just a story of surviving the outbreak and subsequent years beyond.  This story speaks to human nature, good vs evil, misunderstanding and coming of age.  No matter the circumstances or settings there are universal truths in this story.

Fourteen years after First Night finds us in a small refugee town that has coped with their new circumstances by bunking down and taking a defensive posture.  I think it is conceivable, that after a major disaster, that people will rally together and take no more risks than necessary to make themselves “safer” in their environment.  Unfortunately, along with that came an almost debilitating fear of things that had nothing to do with their predicament.  While the community worked, or functioned efficiently, it was also extremely backward as well.  For instance, blaming electricity for the cause of the outbreak versus say a virus was rather ridiculous.  However, there will always be people who will grasp at the irrational to explain a perfectly rational situation.  Everyone has their jobs and their responsibilities to ensure the community runs smoothly.

The Imura brothers are not the exception to this rule.  Benny, the younger brother is a teen that is flailing about to find his place in this world.  However, he has some growing up to do, like most teenagers.  He has unrealistic perceptions about his life and that of his older brother, Tom.  Benny was a mere toddler when First Night occurred.  Even though it is traumatizing, how reliable is his “memory” of what occurred.  In his deluded mind, he saw everything clearly, worshipping men who were more bluff and bluster and hating someone who only did the best he could do.  During the course of the novel, I find myself annoyed with Benny because he has the typical teenager, “I know more than you” attitude but he does show glimmers of understanding and hope as it progresses.  He learns that not all things are black and white.  Not everyone is strictly good or evil.  He finds an inner strength and determination to help him through difficult situations under the tutelage of his older brother and friend, Mr. Sacchetto about things not being as clear cut as he once thought.  His perceived hate turned to love for his brother and he learns that people he once deemed heroes can be the worst offenders of them all.

On the other side of the Imura coin is the ever cool, ever calm and zen Tom Imura.  (I’m hoping that isn’t a racial profiling thing on the part of the author).  A point of contention I have is the inconsistency of the writer on the point of Tom’s age at the time of First Night.  On one hand the author says Tom’s about Benny’s current age (16) at the time of the outbreak and on the other, he is a trainee at the police department, which would not be happening at the age of 16, but would likely put him in his early twenties.  But beyond that, Tom is a bounty hunter, he prefers closure specialist, who takes his job seriously and works  to bring closure to families who have “lost” members of their own family to the blight.  However, his main challenges are dealing with an irreverent and downright hostile brother who becomes his reluctant apprentice.  Tom is always wise, always calm, cool and collected and someone to be admired for his patience, understanding and ability to stand tall in the aftermath of the devastating loss of his parents.  He’s done the best can to raise his brother and give him a foundation to live his life as an honorable and respectable man even in the ruins of the society beyond their compound’s walls.

While Benny vilified his brother for “running” away from aiding their parents during the confusion of First Night, Mr. Sacchetto shines a light on things not being as clearcut as Benny once thought.  In fact, Benny is treated to an account of things that transpired that surely should have put Mr. Sacchetto in the category of coward, but only caused Benny to rethink (at least, that is my hope as the book progresses) his understanding of what his brother went through on First Night.

I think one of the huge lessons learned in this novel is that there are those who will always abuse and always subjugate others for their amusement or financial gain.  I do believe that no matter the circumstances and no matter the period in time, there are those who will do the most foul, ruthless and unreasonable things.  Unfortunately for Benny, he learns this the hard way.  To some extent Benny is sheltered at the start of the novel.  However, he receives an education along the way that opens his eyes to the monsters amongst them in the form of ordinary men.  He learns the difference between an unwilling assailant versus someone who maliciously, callously hurts someone for sport.  I think it is unfortunate but I think it is true to form that there will always be bullies and unless those who have the courage and the fortitude to stand up to them, they will run roughshod over those who cannot defend themselves.

Unlike, “The Maze Runner,” I am glad that the young women thrown into the book are not there merely for a distraction.  Lilah is by far stronger than Nix.  However, both have weaknesses that make them more realistic.  For Lilah, it would make sense that she has an almost desensitized way of handling things, living out in the Ruin amongst the monsters of men and that of zombies.  She does what she needs to do with no remorse and efficiently.  However, there is more than enough to feel sorry for her for because she has lost her family and is all alone in the world.  She has no frame of reference of what a normal life would be like.  Whereas, Nix is an idealist, a thinker, she is not physically capable like Lilah.  Both girls are grieving losses, some fresher than others.   However, I say Lilah’s handling of her loss is much more constructive and clear cut than Nix.  Lilah is methodical in who she targets in her “revenge plot”.   Nix lashes out at Tom, Benny and whoever else she thinks she can because her wounds are fresh.

I understand Nix having a difficult time being that she recently lost her mother , was kidnapped and dragged into the wastelands to be exploited.  However, my understanding falls short when she finds time to have a superiority complex with Lilah because of how Lilah chooses (if we can call it a choice)to live her life.  Yes, she’s a teenager and should have more pressing issues with trying to survive in the Ruin versus being judgmental.  While it is realistic that Nix would focus on things to take her mind away from her new situation and grief, I still found it annoying that she finds time to be jealous and insecure. I found myself kinda rooting for her demise.  I admire that Nix is intelligent, creative and possibly innovative if given the correct tools.

All in all, the novel was well written and delivered a pretty good punch.  I’m very strongly considering reading the remainder of the series because if nothing else, I want Tom to survive.  I like that despite the time or the situation, that the author shows that certain things will always happen.  Teenagers will always need to figure out who they are and where they fit in within their society.  There will always be misunderstanding and misgivings about situations that’s a matter of perception.  There will always be insecurity, jealousy and trying to figure out how to best handle feelings and the situation.  There will always be the people who bully.  Most importantly, there will always be those who persevere and surmount those who would do them harm.  Excellent read.

Lady Esbe also read the second novel in the Benny Imura series, Dust & Decay, and her review may be read here.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Either Tom Imura or Lilah.  Addendum 09/09/14: after reading the second book, Dust & Decay, I have to say I believe I most identify with Sally Two Knives.

Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring Great Book

Ah, zombies.  I do love me some zombies – and have ever since I was a wee me acting out the zombie parts from The Return of the Living Dead (in particular, this one!).  But with the exception of a rare few literary works (World War Z, The Walking Dead), I haven’t read many stories with zombies in them that I didn’t end up finding ridiculous or so dull that I barely finished them.  So, when BillMo announced that this was to be our monthly selection for August, I’ll shamefacedly admit that I wasn’t expecting a whole lot; in fact, about ten-percent in, I described the book to my Taller Half as: “… a post-apocalyptic adventure for young adults involving a young guy and his posse who, I’m sure, will face trials and tribulations only to persevere and learn what it truly means to be a survivor – and a human – the end.  Oh, and there are zombies in.”

And so it was… but not.

Don’t get me wrong – there are zombies in it.  There are whole forests full of the damn things, the streets are crawling with them, subdivisions are bursting with them.  The very foundation for the new, grim civilization of humans that exist in this fledgling New World Order is based upon the enormous population of zombies who fill all the space between human settlements.  The way those humans act, how they live and how their communities are arranged, is all dictated by the zombies.  And when they lurch onto the scene, they’re as mindlessly awesome, voraciously hungry, and twice as nasty as ever.

But Rot & Ruin isn’t really about them.  They’re there, their presence is continuously and constantly felt… but this isn’t their story.  And I think that’s what makes this as great as WWZ and TWD – if you never even read WWZ or TWD, you’ve probably watched the movie / TV series… and you know as well as I do that a few hours of just watching mindless creatures stand around and rot while waiting for some unsuspecting human to cross their paths would get pretty friggin’ boring after, oh, about five seconds.  It’s the humans who catch us in those larger and more well-known works; how they react to this changed world in which they find themselves, how they react to each other, how they change from who they were, and how the lives of those who are too young to remember the world any other way are shaped.

Rot & Ruin has zombies… but it’s the story of Benny and Tom Imura, and it’s the story of Nix and Jessie Riley; it’s Morgie’s story and Chong’s story; it’s the story of Lilah and Anne, it’s Rob Sacchetto’s story, it’s even Charlie and Marion’s story.  It’s about people, about human beings and the myriad of ways in which we respond to stress, grief, power, terror, and guilt.  Unlike a lot of YA novels on the shelves, it doesn’t spoon-feed you the message that “people are generally quite nice once you get to know them;” rather, it paints a bleaker and more realistic vision of our species: beneath our cities and our technology, beneath our complicated weapons systems and our complex government structures, we’re just animals vying for survival, just like every other wild creature.  Most people just want to be left alone, they want to feel safe within the herd, and if they have to stick their heads in the sand to accomplish that sense of security, then so be it.  The occasional ruthless egomaniac will shove his / her way to the top, and, if permitted, they will exert their influence over everything and everyone they can; even more rarely, someone will step forward to oppose them and stand up for what’s morally and ethically right.

The pace was excellent; the novel starts off slowly, giving you a chance to learn a bit about Benny’s social circle, his relatively insular ideas of how the world works, and the surroundings in which he lives.  The imagery was fantastic – from the disgusting scene of depravity involving bounty hunters playing a “kick-game” with a group of limbless, blind zombies to the Hungry Forest, from the streamers tied outside of the fences to the plastic tarp hanging behind a waterfall – it’s all described so well that I really felt as if I was there, in that moment, in that place.  And just enough is left to the imagination to really make you feel as if it’s your world.  (Incidentally, my favorite piece of imagery in the entire novel might have been when Benny Imura allowed a zombie card to be pulled from his hand by a breeze only to have its progress halted by a well-timed boot stomp.  It doesn’t sound like much, but you’ve got to read it – amazing!)

Unlike some books we’ve read that feature a teenaged boy (I’m looking dead at you, Thomas), Benny’s rebellious streak made sense to me.  Maberry seems to have thought the same thing I’ve been wondering: why do authors always assume teenagers will act the same under post-apocalyptic conditions as they do now?  If you pay attention to the rest of the world at all, then you’ve noticed that teenagers in war-torn countries don’t act the same way as our more privileged teenagers here; there’s no reason to think that, if you were raised in a state of nearly-constant terror, that you would be so frivolous about life, so reckless about death, or so bratty at every given turn.  Benny has his rebellious streaks – he’s a hormonal teenager, after all – but he argues when he has the time, when his back isn’t against a wall; when things go to hell, he shuts up and, for the most part, lets those with the know-how to handle situations take control – if he still has something to say about it, the argument resumes once the situation is contained.  He’s a clever, headstrong, independent kid who gradually learns to look past the smoke and mirrors and see how the world really is – and how he must be if he wants to survive in it.

And a big plus in my book: the girls aren’t just there to be eye-candy!!!!  Lilah is tough and resourceful, and Nix is described as being “a real geek,” as well as a tomboy; the latter is shown to be very practical, as well, with the exception of a brief stint wherein she thought that screaming at the top of her lungs from a hiding place and making wild accusations about her rescuers was the best way to work off some steam.

Lou Chong, Benny’s B.F.F., is a bit like Nix; they’re both bookworms, dreamers, and idealists, but where Nix is unafraid of challenges, Chong is content to sit on the sidelines.  His calm, rational, unhurried approach to just about everything was a nice contrast to the high-strung Nix and short-sighted Benny.

I wish I could be as honorable and selfless as Tom Imura (big literary crush going on with him, too, by the way – whew!), but even he has his flaws.  He’s strong and practical, yes, and he’s sacrificed a lot to play the surrogate father for his little brother; but he has blinders on of his own.  He spends a good majority of the novel obviously attempting to shield his brother from a lot of nasty truths, all in some vain attempt to keep Benny’s life as “normal” as possible; while I can appreciate that, it’s a clear weakness – and it’s written as such.  As Tom finds out later, what was “normal” for him when he was a teenager is not “normal” now; the very definition of that word changed the moment humans took a nose-dive a few rungs down the food-chain, and he really did his brother – and himself – a disservice by attempting to shelter him as much as he did.

The baddies in this one are, as you’ve no doubt inferred by now, definitely not the zombies.  The zombies do what they do, and they are no more “good” or “evil” than a tree stump; they’re mindless eating machines, and you can’t blame them any more than you can blame a shark for attacking someone in the open ocean.  But humans have choices, we use reasoning rather than instinct, and when we make the conscious decision to terrorize one another, that’s when we go bad.  The humans in Maberry’s tale who have taken that darker path thrive on violence; one of the characters even makes the assessment that they “seem to think that anything they put their hands on belongs to them.”  If you’re familiar with TWD, then these baddies will really start to remind you of Merle Dixon and The Governor – they are competent and talented people when it comes to fighting and survival, but they’ve allowed their fear to override just about every shred of their humanity, turning them into unstable monsters who seek nothing more than dominance.

In the end, I’d totally recommend this book to fans of zombie-style entertainment, and I totally plan to read the next one.  It’ll be good for my braaaaaaaains!  🙂

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Mostly Nix Riley, with the exception of that strange and highly vocal meltdown she had when dealing with her grief.  That explosion of yelling and apportioning blame all around her, and the sudden violent streak of jealousy that followed not soon after, really made no sense to me.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lady Esbe says:

    Hmmm….what job would I have. Well, I can barely draw a stick figure, so not an Erosion Artist..which would be neat. I’d get kinda bored being a Watcher. I wouldn’t want to do any of the necessary jobs in town…so I guess that would leave Bounty Hunter…in the order of Tom Imura (if not a little meaner…I got to admit, I have a temper and the baddies in this one would have me acting a little like Lilah).

    Great book, great discussion. I hope others post their comments as well

    Like

  2. Lady Esbe says:

    After reading “Dust & Decay” I have determined I would definitely be a Closure Specialist.

    Like

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