Are you the kind of reader who immediately knows whether the book you are reading is good? In a reader version of Name That Tune I can tell whether I like what I am reading in the first chapter, first page or even, “I can name whether I like a book in one line.”
Well, that’s what I have thought anyway. I wasn’t excited by the first line of The Infects by Sean Beaudoin. After the first page I was still ho-hum. After the first chapter things hadn’t much improved. Yet I inexplicably stuck with it. Maybe there is some profound life lesson in there….don’t give up, perservere, don’t judge a book by its cover, etc. I don’t know why, but for some reason I kept reading.
Up to a certain point the book was like being in a dark cave…it was cramped, uncomfortable and I didn’t know where I was going. Then by Chapter 5 I suddenly emerged out of the cave and could breathe fresh air, and stretch, and suddenly the world looked expansive.
Nick is a teenage boy who after his parents divorce and his Dad’s firing is expected to go out and bring home the bacon for his slacker Dad and his possibly autistic younger sister Amanda. He gets a job butchering chickens at his Dad’s former employer, Rebozzo. The only good thing about his job is being in proximity to Petal, his coworker and school classmate, whom he seriously crushes on though he can’t work up the nerve to do much about it.
Unexpectedly he is offered a promotion at work and things appear to be looking up until one day a workplace incident happens which lands Nick in a boot camp for juvenile delinquents. This is where the story really began to jell for me. The dialogue of a bunch of sarcastic hormonal male juvenile delinquents made me laugh. Nick, given the tag Nero by the camp counselors, is determined to keep his head down until the van catches up to the van of female juvenile delinquents and he spots – Petal.
However, it’s not Petal, but a girl given the handle Swann, who is transferred to the boy’s van and gives the puffed up boys a lesson in badassery. The offenders are marched deep into the woods to pitch camp and that’s where things start to really go wrong. During the zombie apocalypse, Nick/Nero, becomes a leader though the boys might not be so eager to follow him if they knew he was determined to find Petal.
The actions builds and the book was growing on me more and more, I was particularly taken with the tidbits of wisdom gained called Zombrules scattered throughout the chapters. Then I got to the final few chapters and it all started falling apart. I don’t know if the issue was that the author was struggling to find a way to end the story or whether he fell into the temptation to use his book to make some kind of social commentary…there were references to consumerism, corporate malfeasance, the individual vs. group think, militias, etc. Basically, it was a case of ‘kitchen soup’ at the end, a little bit of this and a little bit of that were all thrown in at a rush toward the end. However, my biggest was that after a few hundred pages you start to feel like you understand the main character and who they are, yet the author ended the book by having Nick/Nero do a complete 180 that didn’t correspond with anything I thought I knew about him. I was actually pretty annoyed at what felt like being led on. The only saving grace was reading the arresting officers ‘notes’ at the very end explaining the offense each of the boys had committed that landed them in the boot camp.