Expected Publication Date: May 01, 2012
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.
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The Weepers: The Other Life engendered really mixed responses in me - some of them even conflicting - which is making it hard to process exactly what I think about it. It is not very often that a book can simultaneously remind me of The Diary of Anne Frank and Resident Evil! And therein lies, I believe, the problem: it almost feels like there is more than one book here. It's as if Winnacker had more than one direction she wanted to go with the book and, in failing to choose a direction, pulled it to pieces. That is not to say that there weren't some really great bits, so let's start with those.
I think Winnacker did an excellent job introducing Sherry and her family to the readers. She communicates their frayed psychological and emotional states very well in the tightly wound, claustrophobic interactions between people who clearly have been forced too close together for too long. As a reader I felt the urgency to get out quite acutely; but was equally fearful of what they would find when they left. I also liked her use of flashbacks. They at first felt completely arbitrary. However, as the story progressed these emotionally charged snapshots coalesced into clear images that displayed just how starkly the characters had changed. The adults, but especially Sherry's Grandmother, were empty shells of what they once were, resigned to their new reality. The Weepers, too, were actually quite chilling. I really liked Winnacker's take on Zombies; I had some heart-thumping moments where I was truly frightened for the characters and was genuinely intrigued by the differentiation between types of Weepers. (I could see the whys of this getting much more interesting in future books.)
But this is where Resident Evil kicks in: the plot felt entirely too safe. NOTHING that came about really surprised me. (spoiler) The virus was manufactured by the government; they had built a wall to keep people in, knowing they were not all infected; there was a cure available if only they could get out; someone who had been outside and tested on came back in; a scientist stayed behind because his family had been infected. (end spoiler) I almost feel silly for hiding that, because every single reveal that should have been climatic was already right there in RE.
I was also disappointed in the romance between Sherry and Joshua. It felt lackluster at best; and two such otherwise well crafted characters deserved better. This good set-up with poor follow-through is a problem throughout the book - especially with the world building. Why didn't George and Izzy's family come directly to Sherry's house when they decided to leave their bunker? I'm sorry, but best friends/neighbors who've been planning survivalist shelters together for years pre-disaster, and talking via radio for the last couple of years post-disaster, have absolutely got a backup plan to get to each other. (spoiler) Especially if all it takes is getting a key out of the cookie jar - a place that has always been the hidey-hole for spare keys. And the "military's" behavior through the whole thing just doesn't make any sense to me at all - why now to shut off the radios? Why not during the bombing, when it would have been quite logical for radio signals to fail? How did they come in and get all the working radios without it being more obvious? (end spoiler)
At times Winnacker had a no-holds-barred approach to her novel - the hint of rape and brutality in the public shelters, the bleakness of the characters' futures, her (seeming) willingness to sacrifice people of great importance to her main characters - but then she would backtrack or fail to follow through with the threat. (spoiler) It just felt inauthentic that Sherry's father survives AND Mia is safe. The loss of Grandma doesn't really count because the woman who died was in no way the same woman in Sherry's memories. Real War has Real Casualties. And with her ending, Winnacker even hints that Zoe might be saved? That's just a little too much rainbow and sunshine for a zombie dystopia. (end spoiler) A really good book is buried inside The Weepers underneath the weak romance and contrived hope, a book that I wish I had read. There were the seeds of something dark and gritty and meaningful, but they were never allowed to flourish. Instead it was cut off before coming to fruition. (In fact, the ending is so abrupt and incongruous with the rest of the story that some of the other reviewers I have read thought they hadn't been given the complete novel.) I wish they were right and there were another hundred pages, because then I might have gotten the depth that Winnacker promised but failed to deliver. She absolutely has promise; maybe I'll find what I'm looking for in the next books.
Review Copy Provided by Marshall Cavendish.
Review also on Goodreads