These are the 2nd and 3rd books of the Carrie Ryan post-apocalyptic zombie trilogy. (I reviewed the first one here.) The entire trilogy is a great read and probably the best one that I have read since “The Hunger Games.” Coming of age during the zombie apocalypse could easily become a melodramatic cheese fest, but Ryan pulls it off with engaging characters, compelling emotional struggles outside of the horror plot and suspenseful action that isn’t restrained for a young adult audience. The shift of voice from book to book gives an interesting look at each of the characters in terms of how they see themselves as well as how the other characters see them.
This is slightly spoilery. There is no good way to discuss the 3rd book, without revealing a pivotal plot point.
In “The Dead-Tossed Waves” the heroine of the first book, Mary, has escaped the Forest of Hands and Teeth and is now the light house keeper in Vista, a small community of survivors along the ocean. She keeps the beacon lit and is responsible for destroying the infected zombies that wash up on the shore. Mary also has a daughter now, Gabry. Gabry is fearful of the world outside of Vista’s barrier and isn’t driven by the same relentless curiosity that drove her mother to journey through the forest. Gabry’s peers, however, are. Spurred on by a desire to please her best friend, Cira, and her love interest, Catcher, Gabry is convinced to jump over the barrier at night to explore the old boardwalk and amusement park on the outskirts of Vista. This decision leads to the infection of some of her friends and a lifetime of punishment for the rest. The backdrop of an old seaside resort highlights the decay of society and the preoccupation with day-to-day survival. There’s no time for roller coaster rides and cotton candy when you are busy decapitating your neighbors.
“The Dark and Hollow Places”, by far the darkest of the trilogy, keeps in the same timeline, but follows Gabry’s sister, Annah, as she struggles to survive alone in the Dark City (New York). Taking the action outside of a cloistered village and a small seaside community and into the big city, gives Ryan more to work with. There is no cohesive community here, but a dog eat dog cynicism that slowly eats away at hope. The zombies aren’t shaking the fences, they lurk around every dark corner. Here in the city, Gabry and Annah’s stories collide as they are caught between a zombie horde and the military that should be protecting them.
The whole notion of how we, as human beings, would handle rebuilding after such a catastrophic event is what really makes this type of story tick (see “The Walking Dead” and BBC’s “Survivors”). The abuse of the power given to the police and military, the allure of cult like religions that strive to supply a reason for what is happening, and the fear of infection that feeds selfish behavior are all believable outcomes. How do you grow up in that environment when a large part of growing up is dreaming about the future?