By Sean Beaudoin
Published on September 25, 2012
Published by Candlewick
Summary from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Nero is stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an "Inward Trek." As if that weren’t bad enough, his counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs overnight and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants. As in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, plentiful carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of "infects" shambles, moans, and drools behind. Of course, these kids have seen zombie movies. They generate "Zombie Rules" almost as quickly as cheeky remarks, but attitude alone can’t keep the biters back. Serving up a cast of irreverent, slightly twisted characters, an unexpected villain, and an ending you won’t see coming, here is a savvy tale that that’s a delight to read — whether you’re a rabid zombie fan or freshly bitten — and an incisive commentary on the evil that lurks within each of us.
I dislike the fact that people often divide books into "boy books" and "girl books" -- like, here, girls, have this book about a princess or a normal girl who discovers she's actually a witch or gets secret ninja training, who will almost certainly be involved in a love triangle. Boy books end up having main characters who might occasionally have a crush on a girl but who otherwise spend most of their time blowing things up or fighting zombies or going on wild adventures. There's usually a lot of cursing and off color jokes and sarcasm. (Because apparently girls don't like those things? I don't know.)
All that said, The Infects is definitely a "boy book", no way around it. Nick Sole is a teenager who works in a shady chicken processing factory, supporting his deadbeat dad and his younger sister who is a video game genius with Aspberger's. An unfortunate, but humorous, incident sends Nick off to a wilderness boot camp for juvenile offenders. He gets the camp nickname of Nero and is put on a bus with a bunch of other boys whose crimes aren't talked about, but their imaginations run wild with the possibilities. Nick is pretty miserable, away from his sister who he takes care of, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of people who are rumored to be gang members and murderers. Things go from bad to worse whenever Nick wakes up one morning at camp to discover that zombies are real. The whole world's changed, and Nick is the unlikely leader as the remaining campers try to survive.
Nick is an interesting main character, conflicted and sarcastic and not very confident. He just wants to keep his head down, stay out of trouble, and go home when his time is up. His fellow campers are a bunch of stereotypes -- the Hispanic kid who might be a gang member, the Russian kid whose dialogue is so predictable that I'm surprised he doesn't say "In Soviet Russia, zombie eat you". (Probably because the target audience wasn't even alive when the USSR collapsed.) For most of the book, there's nothing new, next to the fart jokes and masturbation jokes and teen-boys-leering-at-girls jokes. But then you get to the end of the book, and realize that this is a traditional zombie story with a little bit of a twist when the big reveal happens at the end. That twist is what elevated the book from being "meh" to being something that deserved a little more thought from me. It took an approach that you don't usually -- or ever -- see in zombie stories, and while I love me some zombie stories, I also love stories that challenge your expectations of the genre. Anything that turns the zombie genre on its ear is worth a thumbs up.
The storytelling and narration are different from a lot of other books I've read, and it's a pretty quick read, so give it a try. There's a lot of off color humor, curse words (or slang for curse words), sexual innuendo, and, of course, zombie related violence in the story, so younger or more sensitive readers beware.