I got the chance to read this amazing book before Christmas and I get to be part of the blog tour! It was described as a Zombie Apocalypse adventure book for
YA with some elements of mystery and… A GAY PROTAGONIST!
I honestly had no idea I wanted or needed this book until I read the description. The writing is focused on the plot, not the character’s queerness, doing well to fill in the gaps in dystopian YA. The cover is so gorgeous as well and really fits the brief.
Here’s a short snippet from the novel:
A canoe hung on the dark water as silently as a wolf in the woods. Peter stumbled back. “Dad!”
“Aw hell,” came a voice. “I didn’t mean to startle ya.” A forest of tangled blond hair swished forward followed by a bloodied face.
Peter let out a deep sigh. “Cooper?”
Cooper tucked a strand of hair back behind his ears and shrugged. “I was just checking you was doin’ OK is all.”
“Were,” said Peter.
Cooper cocked his head to one side like a confused dog. “Huh?”
“Were OK. Was is the wrong grammatical construction.”
Cooper looked away and seemed to rummage around in his head for the right thing to say. And it should’ve felt good watching him struggle for a change. After all, it wasn’t often that a chipmunk could outsmart a bobcat. Except it didn’t feel good at all. It would’ve been easier to live with the fact that the only other boy around Peter’s age happened to be the best Zee-wrangler the lake had ever seen if he was as mean as a westerly wind. But he wasn’t. From the little Peter knew from watching Cooper out on the lake all these years, patrolling it or ferrying people back home late at night when they’d had too much to drink over at one of the neighbour’s, he was more than useful. He was well liked.
It also didn’t help that he had the bluest eyes either. Even now, with his face half caked in dried blood and dirt, like he’d just crawled out of some stinking geyser, they still blazed like the blue of a flame. Peter pulled down on his sweater and looked away. All he had were his dumb words. Cooper had everything.
“I should’ve come and found you to say thank you,” said Peter at last. “Sorry.”
Cooper scratched under his armpit and shrugged. “I din’t come to chase you for no thank yous.”
“Well, I should’ve.”
There was another awkward silence so Peter filled it. “Did you bury the old man and that thing?”
“Yeah. Good and proper, out in the woods.”
Peter turned to leave. “Well, that must’ve been hard work, so thank you.”
“You going to First Fall soon?”
Cooper leaned forward and for some reason looked hopeful. “Me too.”
“OK. Well, maybe see you there.”
“What? No. I’m going with my dad.”
“Oh, I know. But if you wanted to hitch a ride or
“No, it’s OK.”
Cooper dipped his paddle in the water and brought the canoe a little closer to the shore. “It’s just that I sluiced out a bunch a deer guts from earlier and laid down a new hide on the seats and everything, so she’s good to go if you wanted. If you wanted to travel with me, I mean.”
Peter looked at Cooper’s shirt. It was so bloodied you couldn’t even make out the black and red plaid beneath it any more. Cooper must’ve noticed his hesitation and quickly glanced down to check himself.
“Oh,” he said, wiping his muddy palms across his thighs. “I honk. Do I honk? I’ve not washed the guts off yet, but I got a clean tee back home. Well, kinda clean.”
Peter narrowed his eyes. “I can make it across the lake without being killed most of the time, you know.”
“Course. I din’t mean that. I just wondered if you wanted to come with me is all. But it don’t matter.”
Doesn’t matter, thought Peter. “Besides, I don’t even know if I’m going to go yet.”
Cooper furrowed his brow. “How come?”
“Well, your dad’s gonna make sure Henry gets me out on the mainland for one thing.”
Cooper looked out toward those dark places where only the pine trees dared stand still.
“They’ll get off your back just as soon as you’ve killed one of the Dead,” he said. “I can show you how things work. If you wanted, I mean. Besides, it ain’t so bad out there.”
“I don’t see how it can be anything but.”
“Well, I ain’t saying it’s not crazier than a dog chasing its own tail, but you can’t see nothin’ all cooped up on these islands.”
“I can see plenty.”
“No,” said Cooper, “you can’t. The view from where you’re standing ain’t wilderness, it’s scenery.”
Peter followed Cooper’s line of sight, but he could only make out the black tips of the pines against the starry night. “Why, what can you see?”
Cooper struck the paddle down in the water like a post and rested his chin on the tip. “Oh, everythin’. The mountains, meadows, rivers roarin’. The way the stars aren’t like a flat ceiling overhead at all, but a universe that wraps all the way around us deep beneath the planet.”
Peter gazed up at the flat roof of stars you could see above the trees around the lake. He didn’t even know what Cooper was talking about.
“There’s something about open places that makes a man consider himself,” said Cooper, as if his soul somehow belonged out there.
Peter watched Cooper’s Adam’s apple rise and fall in his throat when he couldn’t even see his own in the mirror and marvelled at the ease he had in considering himself a man.
“Open places make you consider yourself?”
“Yeah,” said Cooper. “Like the plains.”
“And the stars?”
“Uh-huh. And the sea and the desert too, Pa says. But I dunno why that is.”
Peter shrugged. “Perhaps it’s because they make us feel small.”
“No. They make me feel bigger, Peter.”
Cooper sliced the paddle through the water and turned the canoe to leave.
“Well,” he sighed, “as long as you’s doing OK. I guess I’ll see you around.”
Peter felt a sudden tug in his stomach he didn’t recognize. He took a step forward and went to delay him. But he stopped himself and a moment later the canoe slipped inside the darkness and Cooper was gone. Peter ran his fingers across his throat to feel for his Adam’s apple and gazed up at the starry night. The tree house door creaked open behind him and light struck the shore.
“He carried you all the way up the steps to Darlene’s from the canoe,” called his dad. “Wouldn’t a hurt you to say yes.”
Peter felt the sharp tug in his tummy again. “Say yes to what?”
“Come on, Pete. Come inside, it’s getting cold.”
Peter held back, scanning the darkness for the canoe. But after a moment or two, the sound of the paddle cutting through the water had all but gone so he headed back toward the tree house.
It’s amazing, I read the whole thing in one day which I haven’t done in ages! I couldn’t put it down. The queer rep is great, Peter and his dad have a moment near the beginning where it was made clear his dad knew and accepted him.
The world building and description was wonderful, it reminded me of the game Firewatch (I’ve never been anywhere near a real American nature reserve so that’s the best I got!) and the map at the beginning does help in placing where everything happens. The idea of living in a tree house over a lake sounds clever, I’ve never read or watched a zombie piece where they actually lived on a lake or in tree houses. It gave me some Walking Dead video game aesthetics as the lake froze over.
I think Darren Charlton approached the more sexual content well and perfectly hinted at it without writing an entire sex scene. I always applaud a writer who does this well as I don’t think it should be entirely omitted in YA but should be handled with care.
I love that there was a little bit of disability rep too! Often people with disabilities in a zombie book/film/show die because of it, so that gave a nice change too. I’d like to see more media that approached disabilities and chronic illness in dystopian futures. Disabled people are creative, ask anyone!
I cried several times, my heart was broken then sewed back together, and the number of TWISTS? Astonishing. Honestly hadn’t a clue who was behind it all until it was unveiled. Such a great mystery plot and not very traditional zombie world either.
As an adult reading this YA novel, I can say it suits the audience well but is written in such an enjoyable way that I got lost in it as well, so the age-range is much broader.
This is a great adventure book that ‘just so happens’ to centre a gay character. I could go on but I won’t coz it’ll just become spoilers and I’d rather let everyone have a chance to read themselves! It’s a great book for anyone who loves zombies.
Comes out 6th Feb
Check out the other stops on the blog tour!
I also mention it in this post.