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Rule Of The Undead: Zombies Invade Bookstores

The undead are a persecuted minority in S. G. Browne's <em>Breathers</em>.
The undead are a persecuted minority in S. G. Browne's Breathers.

As Halloween approaches, new generations of literary zombies are rising from the dead and shambling towards the bookshelves — ready to entertain (and frighten) readers of all ages.

Take Nathan Abercrombie, the 10-year-old protagonist of David Lubar's novel My Rotten Life. Nathan is an elementary-school loser who accidentally morphs into a zombie. Suddenly, he's able to turn the weaknesses of death into strengths for life:

"He can't breathe, [so] he no longer has to carry an inhaler. He can't sleep, [but instead] he can play video games," says Lubar.

Lubar's book is meant for an elementary-school audience, but slightly older young adults might find E. Van Lowe's Never Slow Dance With a Zombie more appealing. In Van Lowe's book, narrator Margot Jean Johnson arrives expecting another boring day as the unpopular girl in high school, only to have her world turned upside down:

Van Lowe also uses his story to talk about important issue among teen girls, like body image: "You're juxtaposing Margo's body image issues with these rotting corpses walking through the school. That's kind of cool," he says.

Adults looking for a tale of love and finding one's purpose in the world can pick up Scott Browne's Breathers. It's the story of Andy Warner, a young man who dies in a car accident, then comes back to life in a world where the undead are a persecuted minority.

"The challenge for me doing this was writing a book about a zombie where he was empathetic and sympathetic and you would like him even if he started to do what zombies typically do in Hollywood movies — consume human flesh," says Browne. "But instead of finding it appalling, I wanted to make it so that you liked him enough so that you would root for him."

While Scott Browne wants you identify with his undead hero, Max Brooks takes a more traditional view of zombies in his novel World War Z. Brooks explores a world in which people and nations have battled relentless flesh-eating zombies throughout history. But though he takes humanity to the brink of extinction, his work is oddly positive.

"I do give it an uplifting message," says Brooks. "I think that the world is as safe as we make it. Every day is a fight. You got to get up and you've got to feel optimistic. So, yeah, the book is inspirational."

And if the invasion of the bookshelves isn't enough to satisfy everyone's appetite for the undead, both Breathers and World War Z are currently being developed as feature films.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rick Kleffel