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Book Review: Zom-B by Darren Shan

“A boy staggers into the gym. He’s bleeding. Terrified. Moaning. He falls and I see that a chunk has been cut-bitten-out of the back of his neck.  Blood spurts from the wound. As we gape, more kids spill into the gym. All screaming. Some bleeding. Everyone in shock.” (Back cover of Zom-B)

Zom-B is the first book in a new 12 part book series coming out by Darren Shan.  Darren Shan is, of course, popular for The Vampire’s Assistant and The Demonata series.  If you are familiar with the works of Shan you know that he writes some pretty twisted horror, and book one in this series is no different.

It starts out with simple news reports: there have been zombie attacks in Ireland.  As B watches the news with dear old dad you can’t help but wonder – can it be true?

Meet B’s dad, a racist with a capital R.  Also a wife beater.  All in all, not an easy person to like.  B is being raised as a racist but struggles against this upbringing.  One of B’s best friends is secretly black, but B is also just as likely to say and do racist things.  It is hard, after all, to escape that type of intense social conditioning from your parents.

A majority of this first book deals with racism, zombies don’t bust on to the scene until the final third of the book except being in the background on the news.  When the zombies attack it is intense and gory and shocking, with some interesting twists.

Since this is the first book of a series that has a lot of set up involved, it is hard to critique it on its own.  At times the racism is extremely heavy handed, and it is of course incredibly disturbing to read.  It is interesting to see B struggle with these two parts of self, but B is not always a likable character – for obvious reasons – so it makes this a much more challenging read.

To be honest, I have never been at such a loss as to what to say about a book.  I didn’t love it, I found it difficult to read, and I don’t know that I want to keep reading the series.  It has the potential to go in some really interesting directions, but I am not sure that this first book sold me on the series and the question I keep asking myself is – why?

1) I really didn’t like the characters.  Of course part of the overall arc of the story may well focus on B’s change in thinking, which has the potential to be an interesting story.  There are some definite elements of the story that indicate that there is hope for B.  And there are some very discussable elements in this story regarding racism.

2) The racism and domestic violence was really heavy handed and disconcerting, although, again, it appears that it will be an important part to the overall arc which we don’t clearly understand so it is hard to judge.  There is some definitely interested set-up with some very shady characters and some unique twists on tradition zombie conventions.

There are a few interesting twists in this book that Darren Shan asks reviewers not to reveal, and I won’t.  There are some amazingly despicable adults, but there are a couple that provide a voice of reason.  In the end, this is the most ambivalent and unsure review I have ever written and I just don’t know what to tell you.  I will mention that a few of the Goodreads reviews give it 3 or 4 stars.  I give it 3 stars.  I do see kids reading this series, especially given the popularity of Darren Shan, zombies, and the need for more horror in our teen collections.

This review refers to an ARC of the book I received at ALA.  Coming in October from Little, Brown (978-0-316-21818-4).