In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.
1. Consider what Tom says: “There’s the town and then there’s the Rot and Ruin. Most of the time they aren’t in the same world, you know?” Are there any divides you notice in your daily life where two things exist in “different worlds”?
2. On Benny’s first venture out into the Rot and Ruin, they encounter the “Children.” Tom later says, “I think a lot of the Children are people who didn’t survive the Fall. Oh, sure, their bodies did, but I think some fundamental part of them was broken by what happened. I was there, I can relate.” In what ways are they broken? Why do you think they choose to live as they do?
3. In what ways does the absence of electricity impact life in the new world? Are these changes all practical, or are some of the changes emotional, as well?
4. Secrecy, mystery and ignorance all play important roles in this story. In what ways do these themes impact the choices of the characters and also affect their emotions throughout the book? Are there differences between the three words? When in the book does each come into play?
5. What are the differences in the attitudes and outlooks of the characters who survived and remember First Night, and those who did not live in the old world and are unable to remember it?
6. Various forms of entertainment and gambling are mentioned in the book: from the zombie cards to Gameland. How does your opinion of these activities change over the course of the book? What do you take to be the author’s commentary on entertainment in the new world?
7. Consider what Tom tells Benny: “We let fear rule us and guide us, and that’s never the way to win. Never.” Describe a moment when Benny faces fear in the book. What happened? Why? How might it have been different if he did/didn’t let fear take over in that moment?
8. Benny tells Tom that Nix has “collected everything she can about zoms” in her diary. Make a list that describes all the characteristics about zombies in the book. How are they different from how you imagined zombies to be before reading the book? How are they different from living humans? Why do you think the author choose to characterize and differentiate zombies in these ways?
9. Benny is “sad and disgusted” when he realizes that people “pretend that there was no wasteland of zombies outside.” Why is it problematic to pretend that there is no Rot and Ruin?
10. Does Gameland remind you of anything in today’s world? Do you think it might have been based on something from the real world’s past? Why or why not?
11. In what ways does Nix help Benny throughout his journey? In what ways does she pose obstacles to him? How does Benny’s view of her evolve throughout the book? How do his feelings toward her affect him?
12. Lilah says that “knowledge is power.” In what ways do you think that holds true—or doesn’t—in the new world of the novel?
13. Toward the end of the book, Lilah, Nix, and Benny have a short debate about which area is safer—the town or the Rot and Ruin. How did your perception of each area change throughout the book? Can you definitively say which one is safer? Why or why not?
14. Did the book change your opinion of the word “evil”? How would you have defined it before reading and how would you after? Can you point to specific actions or moments in the book that you would characterize as evil?
15. Friendship and family play important thematic roles in the story, including the relationship between Benny and Tom, as well as that of Benny, Lilah, and Nix, as well as in the memories of kin turned into zombies. How do the roles of family and friends affect the actions of characters throughout the book? How do various connections change between characters? What did the book teach you about the meaning of both family and friends?
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Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times bestselling author, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes in multiple genres including suspense, thriller, horror, science fiction, fantasy, and adventure; and he writes for adults, teens, and middle grade. His works include the Joe Ledger thrillers, Glimpse, the Rot & Ruin series, the Dead of Night series, The Wolfman, TheX-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate, Mars One, and many others. Several of his works are in development for film and TV, including V Wars, which will be a Netflix original series. He is the editor of high-profile anthologies including the X-Files books, Aliens: Bug Hunt, Out of Tune, Hardboiled Horror, Baker Street Irregulars, Nights of the Living Dead, and others. He lives in Del Mar, California. Visit him at JonathanMaberry.com and on Twitter (@JonathanMaberry) and Facebook.