Awkward cover art aside (the one eye zoom always freaks me out a bit), this is one of my favorite books this year. Rot & Ruin goes beyond the idea of “Ahhh! Zombies are trying to kill us!” to take us inside a small community a few years after the ‘end of the world’.

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.

I feel like I’m not going to do a good enough job convincing everyone in the world to read this book, regardless of how you feel about zombies. The reason I feel so strongly about Rot & Ruin is because of how Jonathan Maberry slowly reveals the world in which Benny Imura was raised. Benny’s state of mind when the story begins is vastly different than how he thinks at the end, and the events that lead him there are some of the most riveting and insightful glimpses into post-apocalyptic psyche that I’ve ever seen.

The book is told through Benny. I think that’s another reason why I liked this book. It was written by a guy, which added to the realism of Benny’s voice and thoughts, especially when it came to girls. There’s a great bit in the story between Benny and this girl. Benny’s thoughts during the entire thing had me giggling. He’s so adorable.

There’s so much about the characters and this world that I want to talk about, but at the same time, I don’t want to spoil anything. Like with Tom. Oh, Tom! *sigh*

I will say this, though. Once you start this book, expect to not put it down until you’re finished. I was thoroughly engrossed in Benny’s story after he decided on a vocation, to the point where I forgot to eat dinner. And I need to tell y’all that I teared up a little toward the end. It’s a very emotional story, one that I found to be a bit sad with just a dash of hopeful. There was some closure, but really, so many more questions were raised during the last chapter that I’ve been dying to read Dust & Decay the second after I finished Rot & Ruin.

Overall, I consider this a MUST READ book. The world and the characters make this one of the most thought-provoking and intelligent YA books I’ve ever read.

And since I loved it so much, I contacted Jonathan Maberry and he was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions, which you can read below. (Also, there is a bit of a spoiler in the last question/answer, if you haven’t read Rot & Ruin.)

Q: I’m sure you’re asked this all the time, but how did you come up with the world in Rot & Ruin?

JONATHAN: When I was a kid I snuck into the movies to see the 1968 premiere of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It scared me spitless and left me wondering how-or, indeed ‘if’-I would survive a zombie apocalypse.

Roll forward to a couple of years ago and I was approached by editor Christopher Golden to write a novella for his new anthology, THE NEW DEAD.  Chris asked each contributor to write something ‘different’.  That line-up of writers, by the way, included Max Brooks, David Liss, Robert Kirkman, David Wellington and a veritable who’s who of zombie writers.

So, when I sat down to write the story, I decided to take a closer look at how a kid would survive in a world of zombies. In the process of writing it, though, the story took a lot of unexpected directions. The first was that I didn’t want to write about the actual fall of humanity but instead wanted to explore what happens after the apocalypse. If people survive that kind of catastrophe, what would their world look like? How would people live? What kind of culture would emerge?

When I finished the novella, my agent said that it read like the opening of a YA novel.  The novella went into THE NEW DEAD and the book was very well received.  When Simon & Schuster made an offer on a novel version, I decided to greatly expand the world and the story.  ROT & RUIN went into all sorts of new directions, and suddenly I was there in that world. The people were-and are-completely real to me, and I fell in love with the concepts.

The main character, Benny Imura, also grew in the telling.  He’s a rather annoying kid in the opening chapters-likeable, but only just-but the story is really about him growing as a person and expanding his view of the world around him. By the end of that first book I really liked Benny.

Q: What is your favorite zombie book/movie?

JONATHAN: My favorite zombie movie of all time is the unrated director’s cut of Zack Snyder’s brilliant remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. I’ve watched it at least fifty times.  My favorite zombie novel is Joe McKinney’s DEAD CITY –it’s one uninterrupted action scene that leaves readers breathless.  My favorite zombie comic book is Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD, and that’s also my favorite zombie TV show.

Q: Do you think you’re ready for a zombie apocalypse?

JONATHAN: Absolutely. I often discuss this at genre conventions and book signings.  I’m already a moderately rugged type (48 years of jujutsu, currently an 8th degree black belt and former bodyguard; a deep knowledge of practical survival skills) and I know where to hole-up with other survivors. Of course, my plans are based on the standard slow shuffling zombies. If we get attacked by hordes of fast zoms, then…we’re all toast.

Q: How many books do you have planned for Benny’s series?

JONATHAN: There will be four books in the series: Rot & Ruin (already out), Dust & Decay (coming Aug 2011), Flesh & Bone (2012 –which I’m just about to start writing), and Fire & Ash (2013).

Q: Can you give us an idea of what to expect in Dust & Decay?

JONATHAN: In ROT & RUIN, Benny and his girlfriend, Nix, witness something that changes their view of the world. After the events of that book, we jump forward seven months. Benny and Nix have spent every day training with Benny’s zombie hunter brother, Tom, to prepare for a journey deep into the Ruin. Benny’s best friend, Chong, comes along, as does the enigmatic Lost Girl.  But almost from the minute they leave their town everything that can go wrong, does. DUST & DECAY is an action adventure but it’s also a heartbreaking rite of passage story.

Thanks to Jonathan Maberry for answering my questions. And seriously guys, READ THIS BOOK. You will not regret it.

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