DUST & DECAY BY JONATHAN MABERRY
REVIEW BY NICKYAs you may recall me explaining in my Rot & Ruin review, I was pulled into this zombie series reluctantly. I am a bit squeamish and prone to nightmares... not exactly zombie fan material. Our students raved about it, so I relented. And I loved it. Then, I met Mr. Maberry at YA Fest in Easton, PA. He was such a sincere and kind individual, which just made me increasingly excited to read the sequel, Dust & Decay. I also decided to make it the October pick for my high school book group. We're meeting at the end of Teen Read Week, and because "It Came From the Library" is YALSA's theme this year, I decided it was highly appropriate. There was one disappointment when I started this book, however. I was reading some posts on a listserv, and someone had just finished Flesh & Bone, book three in this series. Unfortunately, the reader commented about the character who dies in Dust & Decay. I promise you I won't reveal who, because if you're like me, you like to be surprised, and I feel like I would have been more emotional in my response if I had not already known what was going to happen.
Dust & Decay picks up a short time after the end of Rot & Ruin. Benny and his friends have been training with Tom for several months. Their goal is to leave the Mountainside for good, and to head out into the Ruin in search of the jet that passed over them months ago. They want to head East, to find out what is out there, who may remain, and what other survivors may be doing to bring civilization back. Once they leave their home town, we meet many new and interesting characters...new bounty hunters and more of the evil zombie hunters we encountered in the first novel. Benny and his friends become split up, and they all sort of deal with their own demons on their journeys. Unfortunately, their journey does not take them far beyond Mountainside because they are called upon, once again, to destroy Gameland, where evil bounty hunters and evangelical psychopaths are continuing the zombie games... throwing children into pits to fight zoms to the death while spectators place their bets.
Before I read Dust & Decay, I came across a review where the writer argued that Benny and Nix did not really evolve in this novel. Perhaps that argument could be made about Nix for most of the novel, but I feel like she hit a major shift when she and Benny find themselves in one of the Gameland pits. Nix confronts her nightmares personified, and the emotional impact is so extreme that she feels it physically. Afterwards, I found her to be a little more tender, and I believe she was able to be like that because she, in a sense, exorcised a demon. I completely disagreed with the summation of Benny as well. He was increasingly mature throughout this one, and therefore, more likeable. He still had the silly banter and occasional selfishness, but he's a teenager, and I would expect nothing less. I became increasingly attached to the characters throughout this book, which made the climax especially brutal. Yet, I think what I enjoyed most about Dust & Decay were all the new "good" bounty hunters that Maberry introduces. The duo from the coast who still talk in surfer lingo were obvious favorites. Sally was not far behind. After I discuss this with the high school students, I will share some of their comments with you all, and keep an eye out for the review of Flesh & Bone, because even though I have a ton of other books I should be reading, this one has just moved up on my "to read" list!