The Infects by Sean Beaudoin (Candlewick, Sept. 2012)– Nick Sole is seventeen and being seventeen is hard enough. It’s even harder when your mom took off and you have a deadbeat dad whom you’ve nicknamed “The Dude” and a little sister with Asperger’s. Working in a chicken processing plant isn’t much fun either and the smell is even worse, but when Nero gets promoted, he thinks maybe it’s not that terrible. Promotion is all well and good until you get distracted, stab yourself in the hand with a boning knife, and end up ruining thousands of dollars’ worth of product. This lands him in the “Inward Trek” program which seeks to reform juvenile delinquents via, you know, hiking. Nick is swiftly nicknamed Nero and put on a bus to the wilderness, along with other teenage male “clients.” When the boys spot the girls’ bus at a pit stop, they’re excited, to say the least, and when one of the girls, Swann, gets placed with them, they’re instantly smitten, but she’s not having any of it. Oh wait, did I mention that Nick’s crush, Petal, is on board that bus too?
Nero notices a few odd things while they’re stopped for gas, but each instance is dismissed, which you can kind of understand, since heading to a wilderness reform camp isn’t every teenagers dream vacation, so Nero is a little distracted. When they arrive at camp, the counselors decide to eat lunch themselves (some big ‘ol buckets of chicken) and not share with the boys. In the middle of the first night, Nero awakens to find Swann eating chicken from the leftovers. You can see what’s coming, can’t you? The action pretty much starts first thing when the boys wake up. The counselors are no longer human and have obviously been munching on human flesh. It’s a zombie free for all, and the boys must fight for their lives. Swann is also a zombie, and she seems “different” from the others. However, this is neither here nor there, because it’s time to run. Fast.
You may think The Infects is your usual zombie fest, full of blood, guts, and good eatin’, and it has all of that! However, the author has created a world that is our world, but a little to the left of it. You’ll recognize brand names, but they’ve been changed ever so slightly, and usually with a humorous twist. The action is nearly nonstop and I laughed out loud on every other page. Nick is a capable hero, and his determination to find Petal and get home to his sister is what drives his every move. Well, that, and to simply survive. Interspersed among the action are “zombie rules” that are not only true, but absolutely hilarious and you’ll see many winks to pop culture. The Infects is gross, crass, funny, impossible to put down, and a must for zombie fans. It frequently ventures into parody, with fantastic results. The author even manages to throw in some interesting observations about our consumer culture amongst the constant carnage. There’s a twist at the end that I’m not sure how I feel about yet, and that’s a good thing, because it’s obvious that Beaudoin wants you to think a bit, even as you laugh and cringe. I believe The Infects is officially a young adult book, but I would say it’s aimed squarely at older teens. If they’re watching The Walking Dead, they can certainly handle this. The Infects is a very smart, rather twisted, addition to zombie fiction, and never talks down to its intended audience. I’m not a teen, and I nommed the heck outta this book, so snap it up!