Review: The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Genre: horror, post-apocalyptic, young-adult
Series: The Other Life #1/ The Weepers #1
Pages: 320 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: February 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since I’d seen daylight. One-fifth of my life.

Sherry and her family have lived sealed in a bunker in the garden since things went wrong up above. Her grandfather has been in the freezer for the last three months, her parents are at each other’s throats and two minutes ago they ran out of food.

Sherry and her father leave the safety of the bunker and find a devastated and empty LA, smashed to pieces by bombs and haunted by ‘Weepers’ - rabid humans infected with a weaponized rabies virus.

While searching for food in a supermarket, Sherry’s father disappears and Sherry is saved by Joshua, a boy-hunter. He takes her to Safe-haven, a tumble-down vineyard in the hills outside LA, where a handful of other survivors are picking up the pieces of their ‘other lives’. As she falls in love for the first time, Sherry must save her father, stay alive and keep Joshua safe when his desire for vengeance threatens them all

Post-apocalyptic zombie novels are rapidly becoming somewhat of a, unexpected favorite of mine. I'm a swelf-avowed wuss when it comes to scary movies and creepy books, but the recent influx of zombie books had me curious, so I caved. (Also, did you know that there is a weird theory/correlation that when Democrats are elected President, more vampire novels are published and when Republicans are, more zombie novels/movies are created. The articles are a bit dated [except this one], but weird.). I started last year having read none, but that ended with Dark Inside, which despite prevalent opinions among my GoodReads friends, I loved. That was the beginning of my search: I've sought out several zombie post-apocalyptic novels since but none, neither YA or not, have had the appeal and tension that I found so deliciously creepy and involving in Dark Inside. This is a rapidly exapnding subgenre so while I didn't find my reading experience of The Other Life to be particularly revelatory or moving, it was decent. Fair. Not bad. I don't mean to damnwith faint praise but I liked several things about this, and loved none. I could've done without entire subplots (the Sherry/Joshua love connection springs to mind) and would've appreciated a stronger presence from the Weepers mentioned.

Sherry is not a main character to wax philosophically on. I found to be rather one-note and often flat in her narration. The story has an easy rhythm to it, but Sherry herself is not the most original or outstanding main character. Her method of constantly counting as a means of distancing herself emotionally from things, while at first innocuous and understandable (I'd fixate on what I lost too) soon became tiresome and overdone, lacking the impact the author seemed to be trying to impart. The flashbacks to before, to the other life for which the book is named, felt often random in their selection, not really connected to the plot of the book. I get that the author was trying to show the stark dichotomy of Sherry's life before and after, but flashing from a maybe-zombie-rabies cut to Sherry getting grounded? All it did for me was lose any dramatic tension built into the previous scene. I don't have much to say for Sherry herself; she was there, she did her job but I wasn't "wowed" by her. She came off as naive and immature several times and I can only hope she will grow a bit in book number two.

And while I admitted just the previous paragraph that The Other Life does indeed contain a nice rhythm and decent pace, does nearly every single chapter have to end in a cliffhanger? I got tired of that authorial trick years ago, when George R. R. Martin started pulling it in order to avoid actually providing answers and forward momentum, and I don't like it any better here. The Weepers themselves also leave a lot to be desired; they're intelligent. not mindless beasts, which is always much more fun to read about than shambling hunks of corpses. However, they rarely present any form of real threat to the characters. <SPOILER>I mean, does anyone important die? No. Grandpa Edgar and Grandma ClickClick both bite it, but one is offscreen before the book begins and the other dies also not in any kind of dramatic way.<SPOILER> I mean, if I am going to read a book about zombies rabies-infected-mindless-cannibals, I want some tension, I want some fear and I want to believe the threat they pose to the heroes.

I wish some authors would realize that some situations, like maybe when the world is ending due to <SPOILER>man-made variations of rabies</SPOILER>, a romance really isn't necessary or wanted for the characters. We're already supposedly emotionally invested in just seeing this loving desperate family make it alive from the bunker to Safe-Haven to wherever, and with all that, is a romantic drama really an essential addition? And the answer for The Other Life is: no - it's entirely superfluous. Joshua is a nice, smart kid, and while I liked that he was more defined and sure of himself than wishy-washy Sherry ("Oh no! I'm about to be eaten but how can I shoot these poor things that were once just like me?!" over and over) he wasn't a remarkable character. I don't see why he had to be involved with Sherry; I felt no spark, no chemistry between them. It just felt forced, added in just to foment more tension done the line when really, that job should've been done by the zombies waiting to murder and eat everyone.

The book ended rather abruptly and it is a short book, with the plot for book three quite obvious from the last chapters contained and most plotlines left yawning wide open. While I will probably read the inevitable and forthcoming sequel, it's mostly die to the last 30% or so of the book. Some pretty interesting twists were pulled off by the author, to my surprise, and much like Monument 14, jumped this up to a higher rating than expected.

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