Positive

When most people hear ‘apocalyptic novel’ they think of a natural disaster such as global warming, drought, tsunamis or hurricanes, or even a man-made problem such as nuclear warfare, but they don’t leap first to a zombie apocalypse.

Positive by David Wellington takes what some would deem a supernatural or sci fi concept and makes it seem as likely as one of the more traditional apocalyptic events as those above. Particularly as the protagonist Finn hasn’t ever seen a zombie since he was born after the event from two parents who met in one of the many emergency shelters. Since Finn and his closest childhood friend have never even seen a zombie, and no one has reported any in years, they are distanced from the very idea of what that means. Not just distanced but even annoyed by the previous generation who display behaviors similar to the effects of PTSD that the post event generation doesn’t relate to.  The previous generations come off as paranoid and zone out at times when something reminds them of the horror. All Finn cares about is the simple life of his family, and doing his part to keep them fed with his fishing expeditions to the subways, which flooded years ago with no one to maintain them.

A discovery during one of the fishing expeditions leads to an life altering event as Finn discovers that there are things about zombieism that he never knew, including the idea that he might be harboring the virus that causes such a state in his own body. Well, he doesn’t believe it, but his community does and brand him a ‘Positive.’Finn is booted out to go live in a camp with other ‘Positives’ until two years have passed and he will be proven to be safe from zombiesm.  Not a great situation, but its made worse when his ride turns up dead and suddenly this sheltered boy is on his own.

However, he is not on his own for long as he meets an eccentric array of characters, some positive and some negative that will lead him on a journey across the country. I mean, what’s better than a good old-fashioned road trip adventure? A road trip with zombies. Yes, Finn quickly learns why the First Gen behave the way they do, yet it’s not just zombies that force him to grow up so quickly. In the world outside his community there are bandits, thieves, child molesters and questionable people galore. Yet, there are also those who live with honor in a world turned upside down. My favorite character is the female ex-patrolman who follows the strictest rules in a world where there are none anymore.  She reminds me of reading Shane in middle school.

Some of the action reminds me of Mad Maxx minus the desert, but with the vehicles, violence and the fall of women to property status. I like that the author David Wellington didn’t turn Finn into some kick ass fighter, or a torn soul tempted by violence. Each encounter and act on his part is a struggle, which is what makes him interesting in a world where it would be much easier to throw aside your scruples to simply survive. I guess that’s what Finn is all about, his goal isn’t to simply survive, he wants more.  He has a vision to rebuild the world, and right the wrongs, a decision that may cost him and the ones he loves everything. Because he narrates his own past in the book, we know he survived, but did he lose his purity and his vision for a different future? That’s what kept my interest throughout this YA book that had a maturity beyond its YA market.

The Registry

The Registry by Shannon Stoker had some good ideas, but between the poor execution and one-dimensional characters, this dystopian novel didn’t deliver.

In our world, especially in places like China, boy babies are more valued than girls.  In Ms. Stoker’s world set in the not too far future, it’s girls who are highly valued.  If a couple has a baby boy, he is abandoned to an orphanage because not only is he worth less money than a girl, but being left to fend for himself since early childhood will make him tough and all boys have to serve in the American Army.  Girls on the other hand are raised by their parents and once they are the right age, they are entered into the Registry.  Basically, a catalog for eligible girls similar to current day websites for foreign brides where women are basically bought.  Mia’s family is fortunate to have all daughters, even one prettier than the last, especially the youngest Mia who will fetch a high bride price unlike her best friend who while pretty receives a very low rank in the Registry…is that because of her intelligence?   After all, men in this near future don’t want a wife who is educated or naturally intelligent.  A woman’s role is to serve and support her husband.

As a feminist I was infuriated by the little clip at the top of each chapter taken from the ‘girl’s guide’ a sort of handbook for how women are to behave.  My fury stemmed from the fact that while this is a fiction book, some of these attitudes are alive and well in the present, not this possible future where a high percentage of the U.S. population was wiped out and led to this supposed ‘change’ in male and female roles.

Also, while Mia is the main character and supposed heroine, she is vapid and happy to go along with being sold by her parents like cattle until her much more worthy older sister escapes from her husband and comes home to warn clueless Mia what being married of is really like.  Even then, while Mia no longer looks forward to being a bride, she still doesn’t do anything substantive to win her freedom, instead relying on her best friend to help plan her escape.  Then Mia selfishly pulls in one of the working boys to her plan, never considering what the consequences will be for him for helping her.

She is incapable of putting together a decent disguise, packing a runaway bag with useful items, teaching herself to drive or anything of use.  Yes, in the book she, like other women, are very sheltered, but even once she learns some horrible truths she still doesn’t do much to save herself instead relying on other people’s sacrifices.  Some have compared this book to a junior version of The Handmaid’s Tale, but in that book Offred kept fighting the twisted society and government, she figured things out, she didn’t sacrifice her friends, etc.  The only thing Mia is good at is being annoying.  The other difference between the two books is everyone, even the villains in The Handmaid’s Tale, are fully fleshed characters whereas in The Registry  the characters are so cartoonish, from the evil fiancee who does everything but twirl his handlebar mustache, to the stereotype gay couple, and the lightweight Caleb who serves as a piece of the almost required love triangle.

The ideas in the story would have made for a chilling and realistic story in the hands of a master such as Margaret Atwood, alas Ms. Stoker gets and A for story idea and an F for execution.