I didn't want to read Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster). The cover is really icky and scary looking and yes, I do judge books by their covers. And sometimes, I am so wrong, because this was an awesome read.
Benny Imura (half Irish, half Japanese) can't remember a time when the world wasn't pretty much taken over by zombies. He blames his older half-brother, Tom, for saving him and leaving his parents to be zombified during the zombiepocalypse, so he really doesn't want to be his brother's apprentice and become a zombie bounty hunter. He changes his mind when he sees that Tom wants to change the world: Tom isn't motivated by money, but by helping families and zombies get closure in their undeath.
When Benny is collecting zombie trading cards, he gets one of The Lost Girl, an almost mythical figure who's been living on her own in the Rot and Ruin outside the small, enclosed safe town where Benny and Tom live. Wondering about her isn't safe, though, because it draws the attention of other bounty hunters who are rumored to take kids into the Rot and Ruin for the Z Games, where Christians vs. lions has become kids vs. zombies for the pleasure of men who know that outside of the rare safe town, there is no law. And it draws attention to Nix, Benny's friend who's just learning to fight. Can Benny and Tom save her? Can she save herself? Or are they all destined to die?
I've never been particularly interested in zombies, but Rot and Ruin brought a lot more to the table. It felt pitch-perfect as a teen book, because sure, it's about zombies--but really it's about waking to what the big conflicts in the world are and deciding what kind of person you want to be. Just without the "The more you know!" ad at the end.
I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee.