Rhiannon Frater made an impression on me years ago with her As The World Dies series, so, even though I'm not a fan of stories told from a child's POV, I was willing to give The Living Dead Boy a chance. I'm so glad I did...there's a depth to the characters and their struggle to survive which pleasantly surprised me.
Normally, I have serious doubts about younger characters rising to the occasion...I mean, a lot of kids can't seem to keep their rooms clean - how can they be expected to handle a zombie outbreak? However, Frater does a fantastic job orchestrating a believable outbreak at a school in Texas, and the kids, with all their hang-ups, prove that age has nothing to do with using common sense. The contrast between the children and the adults adds the right amount of drama to the setting as well.
In the first book, The Living Dead Boy, Josh and his friends are trying to get from their school to their neighborhood, but they soon realize the fresher the zombies, the faster they run. The children try to remember their "zombie fight training," but the horrifying discoveries they make on their way home is too much for some to handle. Faced with watching his friends crack under the overwhelming pressure of trying to survive, Josh is determined to take whatever risks are necessary to keep going, until his dad returns with his Army connections to relocate the survivors.
Lost In Texas, Josh, the Living Dead Boy, and his group of Zombie Hunters, have made it to an evacuation convoy. They've lost some of their original members, and gained several new friends, but their fight for survival is far from over. Their new goal is to make it to a an airlift point and find their missing loved ones. It doesn't help some of the other survivors are less than friendly, particularly a bully named Chad, and many of the adult survivors view the children as a burden.
Despite being preteens and young teenagers, Josh and his friends have been through far more than most adults in this Texas outbreak...they are no longer the children they once were, and they are struggling with their new identities. Chad's obsession with taking over Josh's group complicates the already deadly situation, and delays the group from rejoining the evacuation process. The Zombie Hunters face some extremely difficult choices, such as whether or not to take an uninfected life, even in self-defense.
Journey Across Zombie Texas, the third installment, Frater does a great job of creating terror through her young characters, without getting graphic or obscene...kind of like classic horror, with suspenseful build-up and shocking twists. Josh and his Zombie Hunters face a new threat: adults who are clueless about how bad the outbreak has become. These adults insist that Josh and his friends will be safe with them, but it soon becomes clear the adults can't even help themselves. As if the lack of proper preparations wasn't bad enough, the adults underestimate the threat that Chad has become. The adults only see a group of injured kids, not the people they've become during their journey through Texas.
Even if you're not into the zombie genre, I recommend this series. It's not just a story about survival, it's also a coming of age story about the key relationships that transform each child. While this series is written with young readers in mind, there is no reason adult zombiephiles won't enjoy following Josh and his friends through their Texas nightmare. This series has all the elements that true horror fans will love, but it's also something younger readers can get into as well. Definitely a series for the whole family.
There are some loose endings when Book 3 concludes. In real life, we don't always know what happens to people after we parted ways with them...sometimes people just disappear during a crisis. Maybe Frater will use the loose ends to continue the series, maybe not. I don't feel like she left readers with a cliff-hanger, but this series is so awesome on so many levels, I'd hate to see the author set it aside. No matter what, Josh is definitely a hero, to both my son and me.