Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Kitakoop, West Virginia isn’t like other towns. Ian’s parents moved them here because of his epilepsy, too easily triggered in a larger town. Here, it’s quiet. True, it’s a strange sort of quiet where, occasionally, people don’t seem to realize they’re dead, like poor Mr. Owens rooting around in the blackberry bushes. He’s still walking around, muttering, going through the motions like a sleepwalker. Just … one who will never wake up. Ian knows they’ll have to call his daughter and let her know so she can come collect him and have him taken care of, put down. It’s just a part of life in Kitakoop.

Today, though, is going to be different. Ian is going to finally confess to his best friend, Eric, that he’s gay. That he’s in love with him, and that it’s perfectly okay if Eric doesn’t love him back. He just needs Eric to know. Or maybe he won’t. Maybe they’ll meet at the mall and just do the usual. Chat, goof off, and Ian will hold his secret a little closer for another day.

But that isn’t what happens. Flashing lights and sirens go off and Ian has a seizure, falling back into the fountain. He wakes up on the floor, wet, bleeding, alone, and … well, dead. So, that sucks. Eric is gone, the town’s been evacuated, and Ian is dead. However, on the bright side, he isn’t alone for long as Angel, a stoic girl who didn’t evacuate, and Monica, a girl left behind when her disability kept her from being able to keep up with the others, are with him.

They don’t mind that he’s dead, and since he doesn’t want to be alone, the three of them decide to head to the hospital in search of answers.

This is an unusual book. There’s a bit of gore — with people dying, people falling apart, some light cannibalism — and some very angry conversations as the three of them face the reality of being abandoned. Angel is implied to have autism (it’s never stated, but the indicators are there), Monica has chronic pain and walks with a cane, and Ian has epilepsy. Monica and Ian know one another by sight, as they both had frequent trips to the hospital both as children and as adolescents, but they’ve never really talked until now.

And when they do talk, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s not just about the end of the world, it’s about not having to mask their pain, their suffering, their anger and irritation. Of not having to be a good and angelic disabled person who apologies for everything, who tries to take up as little room as possible, to be as accommodating as possible. Their moments of anger and violence are as much the product of the apocalypse around them as the lifetime of playing by the rules … only to be punished by being left behind to fend for themselves.

Ian, who is the only point of view character, tries so hard to be optimistic, to be cheerful, to be helpful, considerate, and good— even though he’s with friends who encourage him to take up space and make some noise. Because he’s dead and they’re not; he’s the burden, the one who still needs to be treated differently. All he wants is to say goodbye to his parents, whose constant text messages to his phone are heartbreaking, hoping he’s alive and well, struggling with the thought that maybe he’s not; to see Eric again and tell him he loves him; to get back to the pets of the town, left behind in the evacuation, and make sure they have food and water.

When Ian meets Eric, Eric has partnered with Zoey. The meeting … does not go well. And when Zoey learns Ian’s come all this way to confess to Eric, she has a few things to say to him. Valid ones, about how he’s putting a burden on Eric by confessing his love to someone who will either not be able to live with the guilt of turning away a dead man, or by loving someone who is dead, and who will only fade as the days go by. It’s kinder to say nothing, to not put that burden on Eric. Maybe an Ian who wasn’t so hurt, so angry at the injustice of life — er, death — might have agreed. But this Ian is going to stand up for what he wants. For what will make him happy. Ian has something to fight for. Eric, the boy he loves, his friends, and now, himself.

Eric comes from a broken home with an indifferent father and a challenging childhood, and turned to Ian for support and friendship. With Ian being smaller, ill, and sometimes needing help, Eric took it upon himself to be a caretaker. He wants to be ready at a moment’s notice to protect Ian and now has to live with the fact that he failed.

There are a lot of thoughts on helplessness, on anger and grief, on injustice and frustration and acceptance. The subject matter, framed in an adventure story of a ragtag group of survivors, might be slightly weighty for some people. Even so, it’s a fun adventure with a new take on the undead, the process of dying ((and no dying), and the bonds of friendship formed in adversity. It’s also well written, very well paced, and with a very strong and sympathetic main character.

I enjoyed this book, and hope you do, too!