Series: Benny Imura #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster
Date Published: September 14, 2010
Genres: Young Adult, Zombie
Description: 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.
Let me just state that if I turned into a zombie and ended up spending my zom-days lumbering around my job site, I would be one disappointed soul. Wait, do zombies even have souls? My overall impression of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin? Humans are far scarier than any zombie could ever be and Tom Imura is HOTT!!!
Okay, so even in my limited experience with zombie lit, I think that this book offered something different. At the beginning of the book, Benny Imura is young, naïve, immature and doesn’t look past the surface level of anyone or anything in his small circle of existence. Tom Imura, Benny’s older brother, is patient, compassionate, and a skilled fighter, but a man who sees himself as less than perfect. It is my personal opinion that Tom is far harder on himself than Benny could ever be. Benny dislikes his brother based on an obscure recollection he has as a very small child of Tom running away, small Benny clutched in his arms, their parents victims to the “disease.” Benny spends the first 15 years of his life believing Tom is a coward, until the time comes for Benny to join the family business, killing zombies, bounty hunter style. Benny is interested in learning to kill zombies, even if he is not too keen on working for his brother, Tom. However, according to his school teacher, “learning to kill is the sort of thing you should learn from your folks.” So, with decent jobs scarce and the impending threat of losing half his food ration, Benny goes to work for his brother, Tom. It is there, out in the great rot and ruin, that Benny learns about who his brother really is.
Throughout the story, Benny changes a lot. He sees less black and white and recognizes more gray in the world around him. He is more skeptical of people and places and no longer accepts everything at face value. In the great rot and ruin, Benny learns that there are 2 types of danger, – the unthinking incessant zombies and the deliberate malice of fellow bounty hunters, Charlie Mathias and the Motor City Hammer. By the end of the novel, Benny looks at a person’s motives in order to draw conclusions rather than just his/her words. Benny also develops a relationship with childhood girl friend,Nix. Despite Benny’s vow to never fall for a girl he was already friends with, he finds himself crushing on her pretty hard core. The relationship between Nix and Benny develops slowly and is realized by a sweet, gentle yet, standard issue YA kiss. While the kiss maybe formulaic in terms of plot, Benny’s feelings for Nix are not.
Nix, I know you’re hurt. I wish I could fix it, I swear to God. I wish I could make it all different, make what happened not true…If you need to lash out at me, say anything, throw me off this tower, if it will help even a little, then do it. I don’t care what happens to me anymore, I got what I wanted. I got you back safe… the monsters didn’t get you.
Beside the many awesome quote-ables, the main strength of this novel is the exciting plot. I liked that in this particular novel, the world had turned to zombies some decade prior and the characters were living in a post-apocalyptic zombie North America. Despite its many info-dumps (usually via Tom Imura), the story telling was supreme, ending the book with an obvious sequel. While not the best choice for a romance, the writing was seamless and potent.
The truth is the truth. What changes is what we know about it and what we’re willing to believe.
Rot and Ruin is a coming of age story set during the zombie apocalypse. While many of the zombie stories I have read start with the people just finding out that oops those crazy acting people are actually zombies and running for their lives, Rot and Ruin starts many years after “first night” where the characters are living in a society set up behind a fence to keep the zoms out. Everyone has to work for rations starting at age 15 and the jobs are not the type of jobs we might expect. Everything has to do with the zoms, whether with making substances to repel them, or being look out, or actually killing them – which is the Imura family business.
Benny grew up believing his older brother Tom was a coward who took him as a baby and ran away on first night and let their parents get attacked by the zoms. Their society believes Tom to be this amazing zombie hunter and Benny can’t understand why everyone thinks so highly of him. How did a coward earn so much respect? When all other available jobs do not work out for Benny, he agrees to work as an apprentice to his brother and joins the family business.
While out in the “rot and ruin” with his brother, Benny learns that Tom is not just a bounty hunter like some of the other hot shots in their society that Benny idolizes. Tom’s methods are very specific and involve reading a letter from the loved one prior to “quieting” the zom. At first Benny questions this but realizes that zoms used to be someone’s parent or child and just because they died and were turned into this monster due to an infection does not mean the person they used to be does not deserve respect.
He knew that these creatures were dead, that they were reanimated echoes who wore the disguise of the people they had once been, but Tom’s words rang in his mind. They used to be people. How could he strike them? How could he hurt them? Children, women, old people. Lost souls.
A great aspect of this story is that the main conflict involves the people, not the zoms. The world inside the fence is so different from the lawless world of the rot and ruin. People who seem to be the heroes turn out to be so despicable and are involved in horrible acts of cruelty. I found that story line to be so interesting and believable. The conflict unravels with Benny learning about someone referred to as “the lost girl”, an almost feral young woman who has been living in the rot and ruin all by herself, killing zoms in a very particular way. Benny is fascinated upon learning about her, but she knows too much about someone’s secrets and everyone who may know where the lost girl is hiding out is now in danger. Benny and Tom go on a rescue mission, where Benny has to learn difficult lessons about what evil really is.
I also really liked how intelligent this story was. In this world, anyone who dies turns into a zom – so they lock themselves in their rooms at night so if someone dies in their sleep, they don’t eat their families. Genius! Why don’t the people on The Walking Dead do that? Huh? I’m looking at you episode two. I also like the idea of Cadaverine – the substance people pour on themselves to smell like zoms to repel them, and plays a really important part in the plot. The erosion artist’s job is really neat too.
Rot and Ruin was well written, with some sections full of action and other moments of deep contemplation. I think what I enjoyed the most about this book was the really insightful conversations Benny has with his brother Tom and other supporting characters.
There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. Life and death, hope and despair, victory and failure teeter precariously on the decision made at that moment. These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not.
I don’t ever want to live in a world where something like mercy…or maybe its compassion…is the wrong choice.