The Guilded Earlobe | 14 December 2012 |



There are few things as insidious as racism. I hear a lot about how this world is changing, how this newest generation is growing up in a world where the old racists ways of thinking are changing. Yet, racism is like a virus or insect, it adapts and changes and finds a way to linger. Racism has become more subtle, taking on a lexicon of code words and masks. I am a child or the 80′s when this transformation really started taking root. I grew up in a very open and accepting household when it came to race, but still had seen plenty of examples of more subtle racism. My church discouraged interracial dating, not because it was morally wrong, but because the societal pressures would be too hard for the couple, and the children of the union will face bigotry. Many people who believed this never saw the irony of these beliefs, that what they were espousing only contributed to the bigotry they were decrying. One of the effects of my upbringing, was I found it harder to spot true racism. The old school Archie Bunker style racist became like cartoon figures to me, a product of a time past and doomed to take the road of the dinosaurs. Later, when I encountered actual hard core racists, I was floored that people like this actually existed, and that they were open and blunt about it. Also, I saw how their beliefs influenced their children. Oh, the kids were more nuanced, but there were plenty of "between you an me" moments where they perpetuated the beliefs of their parents, just, in prettier words, and dressed up in discussions of things like "immigration." I have also seen plenty of good people struggle to break away from their parents belief system. People who strive to see the true motivations behind their beliefs. It’s not an easy fight, because, racism, like most insects, wants to survive, and it takes constant vigilance and self awareness to keep it at bay.


Zom-B by Darren Shan tells the story of B an English teenager whose father is a racist. When stories of outbreaks of zombies throughout the country hit the news, B’s father things it’s all some publicity stunt. Yet, when the bloody truth is revealed, and zombies invade B’s school, B must find a way to survive. I have to admit, I struggled a lot with Zom-B. There was a lot of stuff I really liked about it. Shan throws some interesting twists into his Zombie mythology, setting up the potential for some interesting scenarios in future editions to the story. Yet, not much of that potential is seen in the first book. Most of the book surrounds a group of kids, acting like pricks, getting into fights, and basically being unruly. These kids are almost proud of their ignorance, lack of motivation in school, and ability to act like a bunch of jackasses. Basically, these were the kids I hated being around in school. I can understand that some will find them kinda cool in that, we don’t give a shit about anything way, but, for me, I just found them to be totally unlikable. There were some things I thought were cleverly done, for instance the nicknames gave the prose an almost sing songy feel that was interesting. There where a few characters I actually liked, but they were all overshadowed by B, who I found utterly unlikable, even though I wanted to like her. Then, there were the racist elements to the story. I thought Shan did a good job showing both the cartoonish lout version of a racist as well as the more subtle, modern day, almost politically correct sanitized type of racism. B’s internal struggle to overcome her father’s belief system was fascinating, but I wish it showed more in her external actions. It was basically, “Oh, I really don’t want to be a racist like my dad. Hey, there’s a black kid, let’s harass him. That will make dad happy.” When the zombie action did come, it was hardcore, gory and fast paced. The final moments of the novel will leave your breathless, shocked and appalled, in equal measure. Shan does a good job setting up his finale, with jaw dropping moments and shocking reveals. Shan plays on your expectations and prejudices as a reader, then basically kicks you in the balls, whether you have them or not. All together, it’s a very uneven experience. It’s very much like witnessing a horrific accident, you really don’t want to keep looking at the carnage, and parts of it turns your stomach, but you just can’t look away. I didn’t love Zom-B. In fact, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much, but one thing I do know is that when the next entry of the series comes out, I’m going to be all over it.


I really have mixed feelings about the audio version of Zom-B. Emma Galvin gives a simply wonderful performance. In fact, most of my experience with Galvin as a narrator had her taking on American roles, and I was pleased to see just how well she did with British characters. She has a wide range of character voices, and manages to make them all feel real. One of the things that I discovered was that a really talented narrator makes some of the racist elements of the story that much more jarring. It’s easier to write off some oafish racist jackass on the page, but when you hear the vitriol and emotion that a talented narrator can bring to a reading, it makes it that much more stomach turning. So, if I loved the narration so much, why the mixed feelings? Well, I actually had read about half this book before an unfortunate situation occurred and my bag containing this novel as well as my Nook was stolen. There are certain aspects to this novel that just are not as effective in the audio format, which if I talked about more would be a major spoiler. This is why it is tough to recommend the audio over the print version. While you do gain an excellent performance, and Galvin’s work gives key moments that much more sting, you also lose something in the audio version. So, while I highly endorse this audio version, if you are struggling to decide between the print and audio, I say, go for both. Read it first, and then give it a listen. I’d be quite interested in your reaction.


Grade: B-

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