Zombie by J. R. Angelella
Read by Alston Brown
Length: 10 Hrs 18 Min
Genre: Coming of Age/Literary Suspense
Quick Thoughts: Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier. Full of witty dialogue, pop culture references and a unique rivalry between the bittersweet and the bizarre, Zombie is a buzz worthy book that defies classification, but would definitely make a wonderful edition to anyone’s bookshelf.
There are places on this earth that strike inherent terror into the hearts of all living sentient beings. These iconic locations of terror would include dark alleys, graveyards, old Victorian houses, and the most dreaded edifice of them all, a place whose concept alone strikes fear into the hearts of many, high school. It seems every time I read a book that centers around teenagers in high school it is full of competing groups cum gangs, torture, and torment in the form of bullying, awkward romance and heartbreak, perpetual embarrassment, and homework. Yet, my life in high school was relatively tame. You would have thought that I should have been a magnet for bullying. I was always a larger boy, and my family snuggled right up to that poverty line. I never had cool clothes, or good looks, yet, besides a couple of fat jokes, and snickering at my less than hip clothes, I made it through high school relatively unharmed. I never really had too many friends, but I was on the peripheral of a few groups that I usually had someone to sit with at lunch, and if I didn’t it really didn’t matter since I had a book. I guess those days, I managed to find a nice comfortable crack to slip into. Yet, there really wasn’t too many of those cracks available. I saw enough to know I was relatively lucky. Kids can sniff out differences like a dog sniffs out shit and I witnessed enough cruelty to know it existed. So, I consider myself blessed for being able to survive high school sane and unscarred, or at the very least, commend my subconscious for its ability to repress the more traumatic moments I may have experiences in that apocalyptic wasteland of my teenage years.
In many ways, Zombie by J. R. Angelella is two books existing between the pages of a single volume. The main story of Zombie is about 14 year old Jeremy Barker, a zombie obsessed, slightly awkward kid from a broken home as he begins his freshman year at an all boys Catholic school. It’s a darkly comic look at the brutality of high school, where kids are tormented by a gang of plaid wearing bullies, and the slightest misstep can have you ridiculed, and tagged with the ultimate of insults, usually some inventive derivative of the slur fag. Jeremy is an engaging character who lives his life by a series of rules to help him survive the zombie apocalypse, which also translate well into surviving the turmoil of fitting in. This coming of age tale doesn’t break all too much new ground, but has some genuinely funny moments, as well as a sweet romance that fits well into the story. The second story is much darker. Each night Jeremy’s father disappears, showing up the next morning disheveled and out of sorts. While investigating his father’s behavior, Jeremy discovers a strange tape of what seems to be a cult about to perform some sort of medical procedure on a man strapped to a gurney. This secondary story is an almost Palahnuikian trip through Jeremy’s increasing strange family, and his father’s erratic behavior. While both of these story aspects on their own are interesting, where the true beauty of the novel comes in is the interplay between these two divergent storylines. As we follow Jeremy through high school he is an extremely reliable narrator. You believe and enjoy his perspective, and the storytelling is pretty straightforward. Yet, when night comes, and when he is dealing with his family, Jeremy becomes less and less reliable, and the prose takes an almost frantic dream like quality to it. While you trust Jeremy is telling you what he truly believes, you don’t know what exactly is affecting his perception, and whether it can be trusted. Jeremy’s instability of perception builds like a crescendo that leads to denouement that will shake the foundations that Angelella establishes throughout the book. I for one was tempted to return to the beginning in order to reexamine the entirety of the novel based on my own altered perceptions. Zombie is truly a feat in storytelling. It reads like a novel Chuck Palahniuk would write after reading too much Robert Cormier while taking swearing lessons from Chuck Wendig. Full of witty dialogue, pop culture references and a unique rivalry between the bittersweet and the bizarre, Zombie is a buzz worthy book that defies classification, but would definitely make a wonderful edition to anyone’s bookshelf.
This is my first experience with Alston Brown as a narrator. I truly didn’t know what to expect with his performance at first. Initially, I struggled hearing him as a 14 year old. Brown sounding a bit too old, and with Jeremy’s witty internal and external dialogue, I had to remind myself occasionally that this was a boy in the midst of puberty. Yet, as the story progresses, I found myself buying into it more and more. While Brown’s voice didn’t always sound 14ish, the affected nature of his speaking tone did. He managed to sound both pretentious and naive at the same time. Jeremy was a character that often thought he knew more than everyone else, but at the same time was lost within his own changing body. Brown’s delivery portrayed Jeremy’s inner turmoil wonderfully. I think as the story developed Brown began to understand better what Angelella was doing, and used subtle changes in pace and timbre to capture the conflicting moods of the story. Zombie is a novel that translates well into audio, and with its competing elements that combines a young adult coming of age story with a twisted adult suspense thriller element, I think it’s one that will provoke a whole lot of discussion.
Note: A Special thanks to AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for review.