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The ongoing trend of zombie fiction --- in book, television and film form --- has yielded many creative versions of this horror classic. In POSITIVE, David Wellington returns to basics with shuffling and mindless undead roaming the landscape, mysteriously infected by a never-explained but easily transmitted virus. The zombies themselves play second fiddle, actually, as the book is about one man who is navigating the dangerous and corrupt America that they have left in their wake.

Finn has lived his entire 20 years in Manhattan, mostly sticking close to the small and safe neighborhoods occupied by the survivors of the Crisis, the zombie apocalypse that threatened to destroy all of humanity. As someone from the “first generation,” the anxiety of the survivors of his parents’ generation is all he has known. And, like others born after the Crisis, he has learned to be resourceful with food and other essential items. Having never seen a zombie up close himself, he doesn't share the worries of the people who were traumatized just two decades ago. When his mother unexpectedly turns zombie, Finn is quickly labeled “positive” and begins the journey to a medical camp in Ohio where he is ordered to stay until the incubation period passes. But he finds the government driver meant to take him from New Jersey to Ohio dead in his car and almost immediately is besieged not by zombies, but by the human looters who scavenge the remains of American towns and cities, existing in a state of near anarchy.

"There is the violence you would expect in POSITIVE, but there is also a fairy tale-like quality as Finn seems quite charmed and often lucky. Even a bullet to the gut doesn't slow him down!"

Having made an enemy of the viscous Red Kate, Finn is taken in by Adare, a man feared, if not respected, in the looter's camps. Adare hopes to train Finn to be his partner in crime and surrogate son, but Finn is horrified by Adare's other quasi-prisoners, a handful of young girls who loot abandoned houses and stores for him by day and are his sex slaves by night. Finn comes to care especially for Kylie, a beautiful but emotionally damaged young woman.

From the looter's camps and abandoned suburbs of New Jersey to the wide open spaces and big cities across Pennsylvania, Ohio and into Indiana, with a short stay in the terrifying medical camp, Finn travels hoping to find a place of peace and security even as he is caught between the government and the looters, Red Kate and Adare, and drawn into a conflict with the leader of a frightening death cult. And, of course, there are zombies!

There is the violence you would expect in POSITIVE, but there is also a fairy tale-like quality as Finn seems quite charmed and often lucky. Even a bullet to the gut doesn't slow him down! Because the story is generally entertaining, readers will be able to look past how easy it sometimes seems for Finn to survive in what is described as an almost unsurvivable world. He is an unwittingly charismatic leader that draws survivors and positives to him as he promises the possibility of forging a new life out of devastation.

As Wellington's hero and protagonist, Finn is charming and compelling, if a bit underdeveloped. Kylie is more problematic as it is mostly through the attentions of Finn instead of her own clearly abundant inner resources that she recovers from the hardships and abuse she suffered. She is heartbreakingly passive and submissive throughout the novel, and Wellington missed an opportunity to create a powerful and resilient partner for Finn in writing her the way he did. Still, there are lots of fun, interesting and even complex characters in POSITIVE, which, despite its flaws, is an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 24, 2015

by David Wellington

  • Publication Date: November 24, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror
  • Mass Market Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • ISBN-10: 0062315390
  • ISBN-13: 9780062315397