Aaaand, then the zombies attack. Suddenly the neighbors, other kids, and the girls at the sleepover are turning into zombies. Zack and Madison may despise each other, but they quickly team up to escape being bitten. A more unlikely Bogart and Hepburn you'll never find.
Here's what it's like to have your neighborhood full of zombies:
Madison fished out another VitalVegan from her handbag and sidled up next to Zack. She took a casual sip, then looked out at the shambling swarm of blood-thirsty fiends. The zombies tottered randomly in every direction. Their arms were outstretched, disjointed limbs dangling out of their sockets, some slashed to shreds with bloody gashes.
Madison let out a choked yelp, dropping the plastic bottle out the window. It seemed to pause in midair before the plastic clinked noisily off the wooden slats of the ladder.
The zombies turned in unison, craning their necks toward the house.
Madison sucked in air, preparing to let out a full-fledged scream. But Zack cupped his hand over her mouth, and instead, she just sputtered into his palm. He shot her a sideways glance and wiped his hand on the side of his pants. Gross.
And then she screamed anyway.
The third member of this little tribe ends up being Rice, Zack's best friend. Madison delights in talking down to both of the boys, but the three of them make a surprisingly good team. Madison may be in love with herself, but she's not stupid. And Zack and Rice are smart in just the way you would expect from a couple of sixth grade boys who've watched a lot of TV—canny and determined to survive. Although Zack's not too sure about Rice's theory that ginkgo biloba is to zombies as garlic is to vampires.
Did I mention that they've made their escape in Zack's parents' Volvo, which Madison manages to drive? After a showdown in a supermarket, they go back to Zack's house to retrieve Madison's little purse dog and Zack's sister, a zombie whom they keep hitting over the head to keep her from biting them. One hockey mask, a leash, and a doggie car divider later (for Zoe, not the dog), they are on the road, heading for the nearest military base, which is where the radio announcer has instructed survivors to gather.
Ah, could the opening of those new BurgerDog fast food restaurants all over the country have anything to do with this national zombie epidemic? And conversely, might Madison's super-healthy lifestyle give her an advantage?
I should mention that the crew picks up another eighth grader named Greg, whom the boys know as a bully and Madison knows as a hottie. Zack looks all the better next to Greg, who is pretty much a lunkhead. But Madison doesn't necessarily catch that.
I have to say, if Kloepfer had simply given us Zack and Rice, this book wouldn't have been nearly as good. But the combination of these two boys with haughty Madison is a hoot, especially when you consider how well the three of them manage.
Illustrator Steve Wolfhard has a great time with his material, drawing zombies and dropping body parts with enthusiasm and panache. Don't forget to take off the book jacket and look at the fabulous map printed on the book cover itself.
I've decided the appeal of zombie stories is that it gives us an instant playground in theater of the absurd: hey, there goes your mom and the cranky neighbor next door, shambling around groaning and falling apart, literally. "Moooowaaaaaahhaaarrgh! It was the unmistakable zombie battle cry." Is that the skateboarder who lives up the street, skateboard in one hand and dead bunny in the other?
Kloepner does an incredible job of pacing this book, of writing realistically funny dialogue for Zack and Co., and of coming up with clever action scenes using zombie mayhem and the creative responses of our young carload of heroes. A very fun new series!
Note for Worried Parents: This is for a little older crowd than Zombiekins, pretty much fifth through eighth graders. The gruesomeness is more gruesome, and there are jokes about middle school crushes. On the other hand, I can think of some fourth graders who would like it... Perhaps I should say instead that Zombiekins is for a little younger crowd than this one.
Also: Your kids might like seeing the Zombie Chasers website, where they can join to participate in games relating to the book.