Monday, October 22, 2012

We Are Dead - Scratch That, Rewind - The Living Dead

Detention of the Living Dead

Maxine “Max” Compton is in detention when the outbreak starts; so are several other students when Max’s best friend Brie storms in – chomping on the thigh bone of their favorite Home Ec teacher, Ms. Watkins!

Brie is a zombie, and quickly starts biting everyone in the room—even her best friend, Max!

When the class realizes what happens, it’s too late; they are all zombies—and they’re no longer alone.

Now a thin gray man in a white lab coat is testing them; making them read, and once they can no longer read, the zombies are led from the room, never to be seen again.

One by one the zombies stop reading, all but a few of them, Max included. Oh, and that cute thug she’s been crushing on for years, Cory Winthrop!

That’s when Max learns that there are good zombies, and bad zombies. And if she’s to survive, she has to pick a side.

Who knew Detention could be this hard... or last forever?

I've read and enjoyed a number of Rusty's teen humor/romance/horror stories, so when Decadent Publishing e-mailed me about his latest book, I jumped at the chance.

You've no doubt seen the surge of supernatural, and specifically zombie material these days. And really, a lot of it is the same. Zombie outbreak occurs, main characters try to survive while slowly but surely they get picked off one by one... It's a pretty bleak outlook, to be sure.

But Rusty chooses a different point of view. What happens after the bite, the turn? What if death isn't the end? And what if the heart keeps working even after the heartbeat stops? His zombies still pack the bite, but a few still keep their brains even after their organs shut down—and not all of them are friendly. So now our protagonists have to deal with learning the ins and outs of being undead, defeating their menacing, bloodthirsty foes, and still contend with teenage hormones.

This particular outbreak happens in the small coastal town of Catfish Cove, Florida. Max has just gotten detention with an assorted bunch of misfits when the Principal comes on the school's TV announcement system screaming about zombies, only to be promptly chowed down upon moments later. Max's best friend, Brie comes into the room a few seconds later, chomping on a severed limb of her own, then decides to share with the class. Max and the rest awake a few minutes later to find themselves under the supervision of a shady Proctor and a lot of armed guards who aren't too stingy with their tasers.

Oh yeah, and the kids are all zombies now.

Max is our narrator for this tale, and I'll be honest, I didn't know what to make of her. Sometimes she comes off as a prep, sometimes a brain, but she's tough and sensitive too. I guess she's out-of-the-box enough not to turn anyone off, but it made her a little hard to grasp. I would have liked a little more fleshing out of one aspect or another instead of being completely relatable.

Oh, and is she ever talkative. Not out loud, per say, but she does tend to ramble in her narration. It's like those comparisons made on Family Guy, but if they went on for twice as long. I'll admit, after a while I started to skim until it got back to the now.

Anyway, her classmates include Jaycee the mean-girl cheerleader, Bobby the geek, Cory the good-guy turned bad-boy but in a sexy way, Nikki the street-smart maybe goth, and Brie the best friend. Unfortunately, I saw all of these as either throw-away or under-utilized.

Nikki was actually the stand-out for me. I was impressed with how much backstory as she got later on, but didn't see it in any of how her character was presented throughout. She's described on page one as "the Tramp (or so they say) With A Heart Of Gold (or, at least, silver)," and that's really all she's painted as for the majority of the book. Then there are these wow moments that really got me interested in more of her story, but too late, story's over. Maybe next time.

If you hadn't guessed it from the summary, Cory's gonna be the love interest. He doesn't do much to warrant it, but he's not the worst guy in the world, so I didn't have much of a problem with it. The romance, while there, doesn't go much farther than googly eyes and held hands. Again, Cory and the romance could have used a little more fleshing out.

Detention shared a lot of similarities with Zombies Don't Cry: both had good zombies and bad zombies, both had electricity as a staple of the zombie lore, both had a Grand Council and a Zombie Law of sorts... In fact, save for a couple naming differences (Reekers vs Zerkers), both books/series could easily be set in the same world.

That being said, Detention wasn't nearly as fleshed out in terms of the world-building. They tell you about some things, mention others, but in the end a lot of subjects are abandoned. Like the Grand Council — I know from Zombies Don't Cry, that they serve as a government who pass down and enforce the rules about secrecy, not spreading the zombie virus, etc. etc. But here they are mentioned once and dropped just as quickly.

The Reapers are handled much the same way.
      "They are like zombie GI Joes, okay? Our version of the military. Think, oh, I dunno, SWAT, the CIA, the Navy Seals and the FBI all rolled into one. When the humans can't handle an infestation, the Reapers move in and take over. That's when you know you're really screwed!"
      "Wait...the zombies army?"
      He just nods his head and gets back to barricading the door. [Location 1799]
Okay, so I get why they come to the school to handle the bad zombies, but why do they go after the 'good' zombies? Are they completely mindless? If they're like the CIA and the FBI, then surely they have the intelligence not to take out their own people.

But none of that is ever really addressed. There's talk about how the data gathered here, and later harvested from the Reekers, is supposed to help in outbreaks down the road. That this entire procedure is not only to help them, but others in the future. Then why are the Reapers sent in to effectively destroy everything? Why aren't they trying to salvage what they can? Sure, it makes for more action, but it leaves a lot hanging.

And another dangling plot line that left me utterly confused: There comes a point when Max does something completely on instinct, to the objections of another character. I don't really object the instinct thing - it works in some cases, and the supernatural/paranormal is one of them. But I never got a real explanation for why the instinct was triggered in the first place. They talk about what it did, and that it's ultimately a good thing, but between this, that, and the other we never find out why she did it, or why the other character would object. Even after reading it through a second time, I still don't get it.

So, after all that I don't know whether I want this to be its own series, or whether I think it works better as a companion or spin-off book to the Living Dead Love Stories (Zombies Don't Cry). As it stands now, I think I'd classify it as a companion novel, one set in the same world but different place. However, if it was ever revisited and fleshed out a little more, I'd love to see it expand into its own series (or companion series).

Overall, Detention of the Living Dead was an action-packed, funny and witty zombie novel. Though it could use a little more meat on its bones (and what zombie doesn't?), for the price of a couple bucks it's well worth the few hours of enjoyment that it gives. Not too graphic with gore, and barely containing romance or language I'd say it's appropriate for Middle Grade and High School. If you're looking for a zombie book that provides some laughs with its gore, snarky teens and unique zombie lore, then you definitely need to check out what Rusty has to offer.

Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this e-book from Decadent Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review.