Premise: Jeremy Barker is a fan of zombie movies, so much so that he has movie posters plastered on his bedroom ceiling. He has even developed a set of zombie survival codes to help him go through life. When he becomes a freshman at a catholic high school, he puts these codes to use. Hordes of older boys roam the campus waiting to pounce upon weaker strays.
Jeremy is plagued by a secretive father who constantly disappears, a pill-popping mother who lives with her boyfriend, and a sex-crazed loser older brother, so he is already forced to survive according to his codes. When he meets the lovely Aimee White, his quirky behavior plays a stark contrast to the rest of the high school boys. He is up front with Aimee and teller her that he likes her. Now he just has to get her to look past the nosebleeds he gets every time he talks to her.
Jeremy’s father is the man in his life, and Jeremy has to take his strange advice with a grain of salt. According to his father, the size of a boy’s knot in his necktie is a symbol for his masculinity, so the full Windsor knot is what he tells Jeremy to tie. In a world where neckties abound and survival is key, Jeremy’s outlook is very different from the rest.
Themes: Survival is key in an all-boys catholic high school. Jocks are at the top of the food chain and Jeremy soon finds that staying under the radar is impossible. He must fend for himself or make alliances with others.
Surprisingly, Zombie also has a plot line of romance. In contrast to the rest of the people in his life, his fondness for Aimee causes him to be forthright about his feelings for her. Even with his juvenile thoughts, he is uniquely mature in how he acts and converses with the opposite sex.
There is also an element of horror in Zombie, but not necessarily in the way you think. Jeremy’s father comes and goes, sometimes not showing up to pick him up from school or disappearing for days. The video he finds in his dad’s office plays up the suspicions he has that something is amiss, especially since it came from one of his teachers.
Pros: Jeremy Barker is a quirky protagonist who speaks unlike any high school kid I have ever known, yet his thoughts are more in line of what you would expect for someone his age. Whether intended or not, he reads like someone with Asperger’s syndrome. I thought there was a fair amount of suspense to keep the reader going, with an interesting set of supporting characters to follow on side plots.
Cons: My biggest complaint about this book is that I felt cheated by the misleading title. There is a big horror plot line at the end, but it doesn’t really have much to do with zombies. While not really a spoiler, I feel compelled to let people know that the only zombies in this book are the ones on the movie posters in Jeremy’s room. I also don’t remember high school kids being as foul as the ones in this book. In fact, there was so much profanity and sexual innuendo that I think it harms more than helps any kind of feelings the author might have been trying to extract.
Recommendations: If you are looking for a zombie novel, this is not it. In fact, there are no actual zombies in this book unless you count the movies referenced throughout. I didn’t even really like it as a horror novel because you don’t get the sense that it even is one until the very end. It feels like J.R. Angelella uses the zombie trend to pull readers in and then throws you into a coming of age juvenile romance by means of bait and switch. It is a shame because Zombie is fairly well written in parts, but then it seems like rules are thrown out the window and plot consistency is irrelevant when new elements are thrown in nonchalantly as if they fit with the rest of the story. If you go in with no expectations you might be surprised and like this book, but there are so many other books out there that don’t have to use a misleading title to lure you in and that are more soundly constructed.