Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.
This book and I have a complicated relationship. Before I get into all the reasons why I didn’t like this book, I have to say that Courtney Summers is definitely a talented writer. She kept me turning the pages, even when I wanted to throw the book across the room and never look at it again. Granted, part of what kept me reading was because I was waiting for something that never happened, but she still kept me reading, and that’s what counts. She has a talent for writing, although I already knew that from a previous book of hers that I read (This is Not a Test). Actually, I also have another book of hers that I am going to start reading next (Fall for Anything), so it’s not like I dislike the writing in her books for the most part.
My problem with this book is that I don’t like any of the characters.
Maybe there are a lot of people who enjoy reading about characters that they can’t stand. Maybe there are some people who enjoy reading about people who continue to make a bad situation worse. I’m not one of them. If I have an otherwise likable character who makes the wrong choice sometimes, I can keep reading and enjoy it because it’s fun to watch people grow.
But Regina never changed. She never learned. She never grew. I suppose we’re supposed to think that she did given a choice that she made to keep her mouth shut near the end of the book, but I don’t really think that that counts. I think that was yet another stupid decision she made that was only less stupid compared to the other stupid choices she made before that.
In the beginning of the book, I felt sorry for her. I hated Kara and Anna and Donnie and Josh and all of the other people who wouldn’t listen to her and who hurt her. As time went on, though, I started to realize I hated Regina, too. I felt less bad about what was happening to her because I remembered that she deserved it. I’m not saying she deserved to be almost raped (that was horrible), but she deserved to have no friends.
I guess I kept reading this book because I was hoping I would eventually feel genuinely sorry for her. I hoped that I would start to understand her and sort of like her. That’s what happened with Before I Fall. I hated Sam in the beginning, but by the end of the book I was feeling sorry for her. I saw a few redeeming qualities in her friends, even though I hated them, as well. I don’t necessarily like the idea of excusing actions of the mean, popular people, but I like to read about realistic characters. I like to believe that everyone has a little bit of good in them, even if that good is only directed at a few people. But these characters aren’t good at all to anyone. They’re horrible to each other just like they are with everyone else, and that’s not fun to read about.
And Regina. I’m sorry, but being scared of being alone doesn’t excuse you from being part of that group. It’s not like she had no friends before she hung out with them. She had Liz, a girl she really liked, and she sold her down the drain to hang out with Anna, and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why that is better than not being popular. Maybe it’s because I was alone most of the time in high school, but I don’t understand her at all, nor do I feel sorry for her.
I understood Regina’s anger, and I understood why wanted to get back at Kara so badly. I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t a little bit enjoy reading about some of the stuff she did to Kara, but I also can’t say that I thought that was a smart move. I don’t understand why she would go to someone she hated right after she’s almost raped, and I don’t know why she would let someone she hated talk her out of going to the police. Everything could have been avoided if she had done that. She could have gone to her parents at any point. Hell, she could have gone to a teacher.
That’s another thing that really bothered me about this book: I have a hard time believing parents and teachers are that blind. How do you beat someone up in the hall and not have a single teacher notice? Maybe things have changed since the time this book occurred (they did have payphones, after all), but my school always had teachers nearby, if not out in the hall with us. I guess that’s part of why this book bothered me so much. I have a hard time believing that could actually happen.
The only characters I sort of liked in this were Michael and Liz, but even they bothered me. Michael bothered me because he was too nice to Regina and started liking her (I think) way too soon. I can sort of excuse some of his behavior, but I still thought he was stupid. I really liked Liz until the end of the book. I liked how she refused to forgive Regina and told Michael he was stupid for trusting her. She was the only character who made any sense. And then she did something at the end of the book that “fixes” all of the problems, and that all seemed a bit rushed and out of character for everyone involved.
The fact that I’m spending so much time complaining about this book definitely says something about it. I have very strong negative feelings about this book, but it kept me reading until the end. I have definitely read some books where I didn’t care enough about the characters to keep reading. That is the only reason I marked this book as high as I did, even if my rating still isn’t that high.
Summary from Goodreads:
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?
I thought that a book about the zombie apocalypse would have had more scenes with zombies in it, but I have to say that I didn’t really miss them. If you’re looking to read a book with a lot of fight scenes and descriptions of zombies, this isn’t the book for you. If, however, you’re looking for a book that deals with real characters and explores how far you can push people before they break, you’ll probably want to read this one for yourself.
We don’t know where the zombies came from. We don’t know if anyone else survived. All we know is that a week after the zombies attack, six students take shelter in Cortege High School. They have a limited supply of food and water, and two of their party have already perished. The radio plays a single warning again and again – telling them to seek immediate shelter, that this is not a test.
I sort of wish the novel addressed where the zombies came from, but it’s not a huge concern. The main focus of this book is on the characters, and what they’ve had to do survive. The characters in this novel are incredibly realistic. Some get along. Some don’t. There are arguments and tears. Relationships are formed and broken. There was really only one character whom I disliked the entire novel, and even then I couldn’t really blame him for his behavior. That was probably the best part of the novel for me – the fact that the characters were so believable. They sounded like real people, not characters created to make a point.
There were really only two downsides to this novel. The first was the narrator, Sloane Price. I feel sorry for her, and I can understand why she begins the novel wanting to die, but the fact that she goes with these people just seems really selfish to me. She wastes a ton of water. She eats the food. She slows them down. And on top of all of that, she keeps saying that she wants to die. II just sort of wanted her to just pick one and stick with it.
The other downside was the ending. I’m not going to give anything away, but it just seemed like it was rushing to get nowhere. There’s about 250 pages of relatively low amounts of action, and then all of a sudden big things start happening. It almost feels like Summers didn’t know how to end it, so she just started throwing stuff together. The ending’s not quite that bad, but it’s close, or at least it seems that way to me. I would have given the first two-thirds of this book full credit, but the ending just sort of didn’t live up to my expectations at that point.
Overall, though, I still really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it others. Summers has a very interesting writing style that just sort of pulls you into the story, and made the book so much more enjoyable.