For 9th Grade Zombie Fans: “World War Z” and “Rot and Ruin”

October 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

The cover is not at all frightening, but the contents are. I had found two copies of Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars at summer book sales ($1.00 each) and placed them on the 9th grade independent reading book carts.  There was not much interest; the paperback measures a hefty 342 pages. But lately, the book is gaining some tractions with some of the freshmen boys.

“It’s about these interviews with survivors of the Zombie apocalypse ” explained Paul to the class yesterday when he volunteered to share what he was reading, “and it is really realistic. You hear how the zombie plague started and how the governments are corrupt.”

When a classmate endorses a book, the other students listen; first person testimonials are very powerful in our independent reading program. I had touted the book early in September to students when they were first perusing the book carts  The storyline was compelling enough for me, a squeamish reader, to appreciate how Brooks made a zombie war a study in political science. How would governments react to an epidemiological disaster? What would our military do to contain a potent virus? What rules would govern the survivors? I found the book to be a heart pounding read, and I read a few paragraphs to the class who listened with interest.

World War Z is told through a series of eye-witness accounts that occasionally connect characters and events. For example, there is the testimony of the fictional Dr. Kwang Jingshu, Greater Chongqing, United Federation of China:

“I found ‘Patient Zero’ behind the locked door of an abandoned apartment across town. . . . His wrists and feet were bound with plastic packing twine. Although he’d rubbed off the skin around his bonds, there was no blood. There was also no blood on his other wounds. . . . He was writhing like an animal; a gag muffled his growls. At first the villagers tried to hold me back. They warned me not to touch him, that he was ‘cursed.’ I shrugged them off and reached for my mask and gloves. The boy’s skin was . . . cold and gray . . . I could find neither his heartbeat nor his pulse.”

There is also very realistic testimony from the fictional General Travis D’Ambrosia, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe:

“Two hundred million zombies. Who can even visualize that type of number, let alone combat it? . . . For the first time in history, we faced an enemy that was actively waging total war. They had no limits of endurance. They would never negotiate, never surrender. They would fight until the very end because, unlike us, every single one of them, every second of every day, was devoted to consuming all life on Earth.”

What was most frightening as I read was my increasing doubt that the hundreds of characters interviewed in this story were fictional at all. Brooks has written post-zombie war interviews of doctors, generals, mayors, and newspaper reporters with remarkable authenticity.

But World War Z is not the only post-apocolyptic zombie book making the rounds in class. Another popular book making the rounds is Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot and Ruin (Benny Imura) the first novel in a series. I often see the rather grotesque cover art sitting on a desk, one eyeball staring up at the ceiling.

A review of Rot and Ruin on Amazon states:
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.
Zombie literature seems to cross our class’s gender lines, although Rot and Ruin seems to be more popular with the girls in the class. At present, there are only a few copies available through our school library, so I will be looking out for it at book sales. In addition to these titles, we also have several copies of James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, a series also loosely connected to the zombie phenomenon.
I am not entirely sure what my students’ fascination with zombies means. There are always trends or fads in literature; several years ago handsome vampires were all the rage, and several year before that, wizards ruled the reading lists. So I am aware that this infatuation with all things zombie will eventually fade, but maybe I can convince them to use their own brains as “food” for thought.

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