Running Red by Jack Bates

Running Red by Jack Bates
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (129 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Rebellious teen Robin “Robbie” Willette thinks her life sucks.

Her grades aren’t the greatest. Her dad hates her “older” boyfriend. And her mom keeps Robbie on a short leash after her straight A, perfect, older sister gets pregnant and has a baby. As the tension builds in her family, Robbie runs away with her boyfriend Lane only to wind up sleeping on the sofa of her ostracized sister.

But it’s not all that bad. Robbie has a taste of independence. She’s working on getting her diploma through night school. She has a job–not a great one but it’s legit. And she’s finally beginning to figure out that her relationship with Lane is a dead end. For the first time in a long time, Robbie Willette is getting her life together.

Just as her life is improving, the world around her begins to crumble. Literally. A plague crawls over the planet, mutating humans into blood-lusting zombies that help spread a deadly fungus. It isn’t long before society collapses. In fact, in less than a year, all of society’s norms are gone. Robbie quickly finds herself separated not only from her family, but from all humanity. Hoping to reunite with her sister and niece, Robbie sets off with the most loyal companion she’s ever had: a yellow Labrador she names Yuki.

The road she travels is not easy. She must confront personal fears, untrustworthy humans, and aggressive mutants. Will Robbie fulfill her dream of finding her family, or is the world just too dangerous a place to discover what she needs most–hope?

How do you outrun an enemy that can hide inside your own body?

Running Red has the pacing of an action movie. From the very first paragraph readers are thrust into Robin’s chaotic, dangerous world. Most of the character development and exposition in this tale actually occurs in the flashbacks which made certain plot twists even more unexpected. Everyone who has survived so far is far too busy staying alive to worry about their emotional health, but I was surprised to see how much Robin matured during the year or so she lived on the run.

I never quite understood the logic behind how the disease spreads or why Yuki appears to be immune to it. While the descriptions of this invasion are terrifying the explanation for why some people were more susceptible to it than others would have made more sense had the author described the disease as a virus instead of a fungus.

While I initially harboured a few doubts about a decision Robin makes as the end of this tale grew near the final scene stays true to everything we learn about her personality and moral code. All of the major plot points were resolved satisfactorily, but a few answers were open-ended enough to justify a sequel in the future if the author ever chooses to revisit these characters.

It’s difficult to write a novel about zombies without including a lot of violent scenes. This book is full of graphic descriptions of characters hurting and killing one another, and while it may be appealing to younger audiences it definitely should not be read by anyone under the age of 16.

Anyone in the mood for a fresh twist on the zombie meme should give Running Red a try. It reinvents some of the most common tropes in the genre while paying homage to the expectations of hardcore fans.

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