Billy Gunn has spent the weekend camping with his best friend (and crush) Rory Wilder. When the teens return at the end of the weekend to their small town of Port Moss, Mississippi, they find the town strangely quiet and deserted. That is until they go into some of the houses and find they all are filled with dead bodies, their families and neighbors who appeared to have died from an unknown cause in their sleep. Billy and Rory have no idea what to do, but they are hopeful that rescue will come soon. After all, someone has to realize that their town has been pretty much wiped off the map, right? But phones are down, no internet sites are updating, and the news shows nothing but static. And if things weren’t bad enough, some of the dead bodies aren’t staying dead.
Billy and Rory have no idea where to turn, but they know they must find a way to stay safe until help can come. But with freak storms, no electricity, and deadheads who seem to want nothing more than to eat them alive, staying safe is near impossible. And that is before the gigantic spaceships appear. The boys have no idea what to do, but they are determined to stick together and try to survive as long as they can.
I am a big fan of zombie apocalypse stories and I have heard great things about Nick Wilgus’ writing, so I decided to give this one a shot. I really enjoyed this young adult tale of two high school juniors trying to survive, basically on their own, a number of horrors. This story is released by DSP Publications, so it’s not a traditional romance, and most of the focus is on the zombie plague and the guys trying to survive. Wilgus creates a world that is plenty scary with threats around every corner, but it is not over-the-top horror as is suitable for a YA book. I think there are plenty of thrills here and I could really feel the boys’ terror and desperation as they keep trying to figure out how to stay one step ahead, yet no matter what they do they are in danger. This is the first book of a series, so we don’t get a real resolution here in terms of what caused the plague, what is in the spaceships, or how the boys will survive. But the story does pull together well and sort of close out one chapter, while leaving numerous issues for future books.
Although this isn’t primarily a romance, we still get a developing love story between Billy and Rory. Billy has been in love with Rory for ages, but has never acted on it. Yet as the boys are caught in this horrible situation, they being to cling to one another and Rory finally opens up that he shares Billy’s feelings. But Rory has a complicated past, including a very religious upbringing, so he has a hard time letting himself move forward with Billy. Still, we do get some relationship development here, as well as some sexual interaction between the boys, though it is not so much “fade to black” as “turn off the light switch” in terms of sex scenes. Again, I think this is befitting the YA nature of the story, especially since the boys are only 15, however be aware that Billy spends a lot of time thinking about sex and it is very clear that the boys are sexually active, even though there is not much described.
Wilgus does a nice job with Rory and Billy, making them feel like believable 15-year olds. At times they are mature and confident, and other times they are terrified kids. Wilgus really captures that sense of being right on the cusp of adulthood, from their language to their behavior. Billy is our POV character and he is a great narrator. Although he is clearly terrified, he ends up frequently taking the lead as the guys work to find their way to safety. Rory is a more complex character and I had a little trouble getting a handle on him. He fluctuates between religious fervor, terror, and confidence. I think it actually fits well given his age, as we see him trying to makes sense of what is going on around him the only way he knows how. But his widely varying personality made it hard for me to really feel like I understood him, and I often found his behavior and choices frustrating.
I’ll note that there is reference in the story to past abuse Rory suffered. It is not described in detail, but it does involve child molestation. I’ll admit I found this kind of weirdly handled as it is thrown out there but never really addressed and Rory seems almost blasé about it. There is also an on-page, attempted rape that is quite scary and fairly detailed, so be aware if that is a trigger or if you are considering this for younger readers.
This isn’t a major issue, but I will also note a timeline thing that threw me off a bit. We are told the boys were camping on Labor Day weekend, which at its latest would be the first week of September. And later we learn that the whole story takes place in a few days. Yet at other points we are told it’s the end of September and it is noted how it is getting really cold at night (it’s not even cold in Maryland in September, let alone Mississippi). So not a huge thing, but it just had me confused at several points.
Overall I really enjoyed this story. I don’t read a lot of YA, but I am really glad I picked this up. Wilgus creates an interesting world here and an intriguing set up for discovering what has really happened to cause the zombies. I am excited to continue on with the series and see where the story goes.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.