Written by: Alden Bell
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
August 2010, $14.99
Genre: Dystopia/Zombie/Young Adult
God is a slick God. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe. For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can’t remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.
As per usual I am on a zombie kick, though I do not know if it counts as a kick when I try to read as much as I can when it comes to zombie fiction pretty much the entire year and not just as the weather turns colder and I am looking for some thrills and chills. That being said I do know that zombie books are a dime a dozen these days whether it is in young adult or adult fiction. There are so many zombies that they even did Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. A lot of them are not very unique, but occasionally you do find a stand out. Sometimes they surprise you with the way they are written and the characters themselves (Forest of Hands and Teeth), other times on how you see the zombies themselves (Rot N Ruin) or even how realistic a portrayal may be (World War Z). There are also funny ones and then sometimes, just sometimes poignant ones. This is the case for the Reapers are the Angels.
I found it in the young adult section, though I am not quite sure I would have put it there. Now as much as I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, admittedly I am a visual person and I cannot help but be drawn by titles and pretty covers. It is one of the few things that will get me to pick up a book and actually read the back and then of course maybe a page or two in the middle to see if the prose is worth anything. I picked this up at Borders because I loved the title. And then I saw the cover and was intrigued even further with the simple design and yet creepy and interesting at the same time. Then I read the pack, chose my middle page within the book to see if its prose was worth anything and knew I had to bring it home with me.
Like many of the good ones, the zombie apocalypse has already happened. Civilization has collapsed, the world changed into something far different than the one we have now and yet real enough, relatable enough that you can picture every last detail. Twenty five years ago the zombies rose, but that matters little to fifteen year old Temple. There has never been a time without the meatskins. She hasn’t the luxury to dream of a world she one knew and yearn for it because it has never existed if but through pictures and photographs and tales from those who once lived it. Left on her own a long time ago through acts of others and sadly her own, she has traveled the desolate and blighted world in search of redemption and hope and something beautiful because surely such things must still exist amongst all of this death. Through her journey she meets many different characters: a group of men who have learned to survive in new ways, an isolated rich family who has forged on ahead pretending that nothing has happened, a community of survivors who live in a city frightened of each other as much as the landscape that exists outside their defenses and a family of mutants. Normally a solitary young woman Temple accepts Maury, a mute who cannot save himself, into her company as a way to seek redemption for herself and hopefully by the God she feels she has wronged; but also to give Maury a chance at family and a home, something she tragically threw away. All the while Temple is pursued by Moses, a man who feels that Temple’s death is the only way to balance the scales, and that will show Temple that sometimes trying to forget your past isn’t quite as easy as it seems.
Things I loved: Temple is a great character. Again like Mary from the Forest of Hands and Teeth she is not entirely without flaws. Sometimes you do not like her and that makes her all the more real because let’s face it sometimes I don’t always like myself either. She has done many things in her short lifetime, things that she regrets. Of all the monsters in the world, she sees herself as the most dangerous and vile, even worse than the meatskins that prey on human flesh. We never really know the true extent of the horror that she lives with, why she is filled with such self-loathing. She is a wanderer by choice simply because she is too afraid of herself and what she might do, not what the zombies may do to her companions. You cannot help but like her though. She is fiercely independent and strong, clever and intensely tragic because of how damaged and flawed she is. Through it all though she strives to find something beautiful, her desire to see something wondrous like Niagara Falls one of the few things that spurns her to go forward, that keeps her alive and not give into the darkness she is convinced shrouds her soul. It is amazing how she finds beauty and miracles in nature, in the way that an abandoned carousel still stands proudly and yet broken in an old town. This makes her interesting and tragic and beautiful. God I love her.
Moses is similarly a character you both love and hate. In this new world, he truly feels that the only way to make the world right again is Temple’s death. He was a man without purpose until Temple killed his brother. It matters not that it was an accident or an act of self-preservation. For Moses he now has something he must do, a destiny he must fulfill. And yet as the book unfolds the similarities between Moses and Temple starts bubbling to the surface. Not only is Moses her pursuer and assassin, but a father figure, a friend and one of the few people in the world that truly understands her. I think Moses sees a lot of himself in Temple. He too has made some difficult choices and does not absolve himself of a lot of them. Even as he pursues Temple, he does so with a code of honor. Though he is convinced of what the final outcome must be, he respects the younger woman, understands her and in some ways loves her flaws and all.
Of all the characters Maury is the most underdeveloped and one dimensional. In many ways he exists only to show just how alone Temple has been and that she needs companionship as much as she fears it. He helps her even in his quiet helpless way that Temple is a good person and he helps her discover all the things she was convinced were lost to her.
One of the other reasons I loved this book were the undead themselves. The zombies in this book are just background creatures, the set dressing really. It doesn’t matter why the zombie apocalypse happened or how other parts of civilization have crumbled or arisen from the ashes. What matters is Temple. This is her journey, her fate and her future. And yet the way the zombies are depicted is a nice change. This isn’t a world where zombies are around every corner and the driving force of the novel is merely survival. Temple is already a survivor burdened by the guilt of how much she has done in order to survive. The undead are just there, the way that a fly or a mosquito exists. She does not really fear them or hate them, they simply are. They do what they are intended to do, what nature has made them. And indeed she feels some regret in killing them, the way that we might kill a wild animal in self-defense.
The prose is also amazing. There is no conventional dialogue that you would find in a traditional novel nor chapter breaks and the like. Temple is telling you her story, in her words and in her way. Seriously, this book is worth the read just for the writing alone the way I felt the Thirteenth Tale was.
Things I didn't love so much: I didn’t like Millie nor the family at the end. They didn’t seem to fit with rest of the book. Probably because I felt like I had just walked into The Hills Have Eyes instead of the great book I had been reading from the start. It’s more of a nitpick though not something that made me stop reading. I really did wish for a different ending and yet in many ways I cannot imagine another. It just works.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. Though you may find it in the young adult section of your bookstore, I really think it should be in regular fiction. This is not due to the violence or the sexual themes and situations that do occur, but because I think anyone could enjoy it, its story and its themes. You have a mix of horror and violence, beauty, good and evil and more. I would recommend it to any horror fan, those who love zombies and books similar to The Forest of Hands and Teeth or The Passage.
Part of: Stand Alone
Also Recommended: Of course The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. The Passage by Justin Cronin, Feed by Mira Grant, and World War Z by Max Brooks
4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks