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.