We’ve Been Bitten: Rot & Ruin Reviewed by Lee Ann Spillane and Beth Scanlon
Title: Rot and Ruin
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2010
Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin takes place in and around Mountainside, a town settled by survivors of First Night, the night the dead rose. For protagonists, Tom and Benny Imura, it’s been fourteen years since First Night, the night their parents were killed by Zombies. Teenagers must declare an occupation by fifteen in this post-apocalyptic future or face austerity measures imposed by the town. Older brother Tom is a zombie hunter. Fourteen-year-old Benny flounders until he decides to join Tom in the family business.
Benny and Tom’s relationship resonates with readers. Who hasn’t looked at an elder—be it brother, parent, administrator or colleague—and judged them lacking: incompetent, incapable or in the dark. Maberry explicates just that human fault and explores it in such as a way as to lead readers to discover the fault and the power within themselves.
The book is not about the zombies. It’s about how humans survive and adapt to ever changing rules. It’s about compassion and morality and the choices that make us truly human amid the monstrosities of modern life (be they zombies or in the case of education a testing frenzy). There are few books that make one want to be a better person. Rot and Ruin is one of them. It has made us, Beth and I, want to be better instructional leaders, better teachers.
It’s easy to get trapped in the image of the high school English teacher. As Benny’s friend Nix reminds us, “Trapped isn’t ‘alive.’ Trapped isn’t ‘safe.’ And it isn’t ‘free’” (Maberry 180). In public, we’re often pegged as literary elitists or grammar guards or mavens of the red pen. Often, our curriculum is stereotyped as dusty drudgery, out of touch with the modern age. We know, for most, that is not so, but still the image persists.
In order to spring the trap of lock-step curriculum or ease the pinch of mandates on teachers’ time, each year the Literacy Council led by my school’s reading coach designs literacy events using books from the Florida Teen Reads List. Students and staff participate in events ranging from Chat & Chew, a lunch time book club, to family literacy night to reading roundtables. Tom Imura, legendary Rot and Ruin zombie hunter and wise older brother reminds our teacher selves that “…the only thing more powerful than fear is routine. Once people are in a rut, it’s sometimes the hardest thing in the world to get them out of it” (Maberry 190). The principal pulls teachers out of reading ruts by providing the funds to purchase a set of the Florida Teen Reads books for English and reading teachers’ classroom libraries each year. I’ve made it part of my summer reading habit to read through the list as soon as it comes out. When Rot and Ruin made the list this year, it wasn’t at the top of my pile.
I not a big Zombie fan. I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I’ve not read World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide or many other titles the Zombie Librarian blogs. Though I’ve dipped into the Zombiedom with John Green’s zombie apocalypse novella, Sara Holbrook’s Zombies Evacuate the School, and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, zombies aren’t my thing. But they’re after me.
The book kept floating into view on a sea of recommendations. Perhaps the most influential recommendation came from friend, book pusher and reading coach extraordinaire, Beth Scanlon. Beth and I work together. We’ve been friends and colleagues in one way or another for more than ten years. Hers is an opinion I walk with daily. She is dead-on in her praise for Maberry’s Rot and Ruin.
Like Lee Ann, I was not a big zombie fan. I don’t like the gore. Zombies kept creeping into my life. My husband, a huge fan of zombie movies, converted my eight-year-old daughter this year by reading The Walking Dead graphic novels with her. This shared loved has turned into a regular family ritual of watching AMC’s The Walking Dead. Everywhere I turned, Zombies: the fitness campaign at our local state college, “Zombies Hate Fast Food”, our school library’s promo, Media Center of the Macabre, crafted with students by our media specialist. Zombies are everywhere.
When I started reading Rot and Ruin this summer, I realized that I might be able to fulfill a dream of mine: embed a school-wide literacy theme into our year. Since my daughter started kindergarten, I have always been jealous of her school’s ability to craft a theme or motto and weave it into all aspects of instruction. It makes school fun. With over nine weeks of testing, maybe more, high school has lost some of that fun.
Zombies are our spark to bring it back. With our zombie theme, we are the unlikely of whom Tom Imura speaks, “…people who found within themselves the spark of something greater…”(Maberry 263). We kickoff our “something greater” this Wednesday with Zombie Zumba. We know that fitness and physical activity affects student achievement (Jensen 2009). Our year is filled with zombies, fitness, reading, and even an author visit. Jonathon Mayberry, will be on campus in December.
We are feeding the hoard. At Cypress Creek High School, we don’t live in fear of Zombies, we embrace them.
Jensen, Eric. 2010. Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do about It. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Fefee, Daryl (Artist). 2012. “Wild Card (Gladiator Gals).” Personal art work. Used with permission.
Maberry, Jonathan. 2010. Rot and Ruin. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Beth Scanlon serves more than 1,200 students and 200 teachers as the reading coach at Cypress Creek High School. She also teaches inservice and pre-service teachers at the University of Central Florida.
Lee Ann Spillane teaches ninth and eleventh grade. Her first book for teachers Reading Amplified is due out this month from Stenhouse.