Jesse is on a UN Youth Ambassadors camp in New York when his subway carriage is rocked by an explosion. Jesse and his three friends, Dave, Mini and Anna, crawl out from the wreckage to discover a city in chaos.
Streets are deserted. Buildings are in ruins. Worse, the only other survivors seem to be infected with a virus that turns them into horrifying predators...
During the first half of this book, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to love it. Like it, yeah. Like 4 stars like. But then I read this:
We are all storytellers.
We write our stories
where and when we
This is mine.
I have nothing.
I have everything.
I am alone.
Maybe you have to have context for this to hit you as hard as it hit me, but it was at this moment that I understood the theme, appreciated the series title, and fell in love with the book. It's a little less than 3/4 into the book.
I wrote this earlier in the day, at the 40% mark:
"I read the first half in a few hours last night and had trouble sleeping. Yay for prayer! It was only after some hardcore praying that I was able to go to sleep. I think I'll try to read the rest of it during the day and then wash it down with some My Little Pony or something. It's just scary and way too realistic-feeling. There are slow parts, which I appreciate in a zombie-esque post-apocalyptic book, and those real survivor parts make it feel a little like Castaway. Castaway with zombies. So yeah. I gotta say, though, the writing is surprising in a good way. The beginning bit has normal dialogue just like any other book, but after the event happens, the quotation marks all disappear and you get this feeling like it's all happening in Jesse's head, almost. Very interesting mechanism there. I'd say it makes the dialogue feel more urgent, and like it's being processed through the fog of trauma. As a writer myself, I always love to see the ways authors pull off something like that. James Phelan has done a fantastic job on his first YA novel. I'll be reading the whole trilogy. The books are shortish, and take place over only a matter of weeks. I'll keep you updated."
Time to update you. :) I would definitely keep the Castaway comparison from my comments above, but the chasers aren't quite zombies. They're something else. A couple of times they're compared to grazing cattle, and in the end the way they evolve from the beginning is very surprising. I guess if I were pitching this I'd say it's 28 Days Later meets Castaway for teens with an Aussie narrator.
The character arc of Jesse, our main guy the Aussie, works really well throughout the story. By the last page, I feel like his twelve or so days post-event have done their work. He's changed for the better. Honestly, that's a tricky feat for a post-apocalyptic book. There's so much going on, the need for so much world-building and explanations, that authors sometimes fudge on the character growth a bit.
Not James Phelan.
This book truly was about Jesse. I guess if he fudged anywhere, it was on the world-building and explanations. You only learn as much as Jesse does, and he's pretty scared so he doesn't take more risks than he has to, which means your information will be limited, too. Other reviewers complained that we didn't see more of the chasers, more action, more thriller.
I felt the suspense during the quiet moments sustained me well. I did not need more chasers. Not at all. In fact, without the thoughtfulness of this book, it wouldn't have made it to Afterglow. It would have been just another zombie book. It was only in getting to know Jesse and his friends that I understood the major themes, came to see the chasers as more than zombies, and got that cathartic feeling of personal growth for myself.
Last few pages = pure gold. Loved them.
I will just say... read during the bright, noisy, happy day. Do not read this at night.
Or if you disregard my admonition, at least keep My Little Pony queued up for emergencies.