Talk about a generation gap! It’s been over a decade since ‘First Night’, the event where people inexplicably died and reanimated as zombies killing billions of people. The adults of Mountainside who remember the world as it was before First Night, and survived the terrors of that event, are content to reside behind the fences and to never venture into the Rot& Ruin, the area outside. Even though there is plenty of farmland, houses and supplies outside the fence, they are not motivated to expand the fence’s boundaries or try to reclaim things from the world before. Benny is one of the town’s teens and his friend Nix finds the complacency of the town’s adult’s maddening. She thinks people should try to reclaim the world and even had a plan to head for the Catalina Islands, where the water would protect settlers from zombies and there is plenty of farmland. Once the population has increased, then she thinks people should start taking the world back. That’s her plan until she and the others who traveled in outside in the first book spotted a jet plane that came from the east, sparking their hopes that somewhere people have more than just survived.
While Nix may have a point, the teens in the book can’t really understand the older generation. They were toddlers or babies without much memory of First Night, so they don’t have the same psychological trauma as the adults. Imagine a society where every adult suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can the adults who remember a world of billions of people realistically think that a few thousand people can take back the world? No one has figured out what caused First Night anyway, they only know how some basic hard won facts about zombies, that everyone who dies will reanimate as one and will need to be ‘quieted’ by severing the motor cortex. Beyond that, they don’t know if the zombies remember anything, why they exist, and why they only attack living flesh and not each other.
The adults in Benny’s world have manifested their PTSD in different ways. Some try to forget, some live with debilitating sadness and depression, some throw themselves into work and family, but others have become warped by the experience, such as many of the bounty hunters whose livelihood is based on killing zombies and the proprietors and spectators of Gameland, a horrifying place where children are thrown into pits to fight zombies while people place bets. Like any good western though there are white hats who fight to hold onto decency such as Tom Imura, Benny’s older brother, and his bounty hunter friends who are only killers out of necessity.
In Dust & Decay Tom trains his brother and friends so that they can set off to find the truth about the jet, but the journey becomes a showdown between those adults and teens who haven’t been warped by First Night and those who became twisted by it. The very nature of YA fiction means the emphasis is placed on the teen characters, but I think shedding some light on the adult perspective of the post apocalyptic world vs. a youth perspective makes for an interesting question and one I might even turn into a story some day.