by Joan Frances Turner, fantasy (2011)
Penguin, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-718-15837-8

Dust is certainly a memorable debut effort from Joan Frances Turner. This is a zombie story, and it's a pretty gruesome one in that the author doesn't shy away from the rotting and such, but then again, if you pick up a book with zombie main characters, you shouldn't be too surprised by all this.

Jessie is a zombie. The world is such that the dead rise again, but there are zombies stay clear of the humans and live in the woods instead, such as Jessie's gang. Sure, everything is rotting, but life isn't that bad. Jessie finds some companionship with Joe and she fits in nicely with the gang. Things have to change, however, and change comes in the form of what seems like an evolution of zombies: more powerful zombies are emerging, having few weaknesses of the current zombies in existence, and soon, it looks like everyone - humans and old school zombies alike - may need to adapt to this latest wave of evolution or become extinct.

Okay, that's a simple summary, but that's what this story is. Told from Jessie's first person point of view, the story takes a while to build up the whole New School Zombies thing, so for the first half or so of the story, Dust is a fascinating, occasionally heartbreaking, story of teen coming-of-age. You know, the kind where life hands you lemons but you only half-remember the recipe for lemonade and you lack the implements to make lemonade anyway - that kind of thing, only with the zombie twist.

Jessie can be a grating protagonist, as a lot of the time she's whining and complaining to the point that she can seem like she's complaining for the sake of complaining. Then again, she's a teenager. Jessie also comes off as intelligent and self-aware underneath her prickly exterior, however, and she makes a good first person narrator as the world simply comes alive through her point of view here.

The author however loses control of her story by its second half. Not to give away spoilers or anything, let me just say that things become rather implausible. I know it's a trend to have our heroine be as special as any That Special Girl trope can be, but I find it hard to believe that she, and the people close to her, are responsible for everything that leads up to that point and everything that comes after. The story starts "small", in that Jessie is just one of the many in a story, and the jump to Jessie being the Special One is too abrupt for me to buy wholesale. Also, the story flies into airy-fairy zombies-apocalypse-metaphysical-profound-sunsets-at-the-end thing that has me scratching my head. The second half of the story feels too different from the first half.

Still, as I've said earlier, Dust is certainly a memorable read. Sure, it's an uneven read, but it still delivers the right amount of hard knocks, pathos, and teen angst to make this a story that I won't forget in a while. If the author had been less heavy-handed with the whole George A Romero stunt of trying too hard to imbue her zombies with deep statements about humanity and what not, this one would have been an amazing read.

Rating: 80

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