In one terrifying night, the peaceful community of Creek’s Cause turns into a war zone. No one under the age of eighteen is safe. Chance Rain and his older brother, Patrick, have already fended off multiple attacks from infected adults by the time they arrive at the school where other young survivors are hiding.
Most of the kids they know have been dragged away by once-trusted adults who are now ferocious, inhuman beings. The parasite that transformed them takes hold after people turn eighteen–and Patrick’s birthday is only a few days away.
Determined to save Patrick’s life and the lives of the remaining kids, the brothers embark on a mission to uncover the truth about the parasites–and what they find is horrifying. Battling an enemy not of this earth, Chance and Patrick become humanity’s only hope for salvation.
This is a book about a group of high school students trapped in their school while diseased ex-humans roam the area in search of them. If that sounds familiar, it should; it’s not the first YA novel that could be summarized thus.
But this non-stop action-fest distinguishes itself quickly from others in the genre. The Rains more or less fits into the “zombie apocalypse” subgenre of Young Adult, but it veers away from the tropes of that genre fairly quickly.
The action starts on page one and is relentless through the course of the novel. Author Gregg Hurwitz has certainly studied his cliffhangers; every chapter seems to end with things having gotten or about to get a lot worse than the chapter before, and Hurwitz pulls this off without it becoming tiresome. There are a few well-placed breaks to slow down (a little) and catch our breath, but not many, and these breaks are used effectively for character development. Most of the book is an unending struggle for life, where every minor victory leads to another struggle. This is survival fiction at its terrifying, visceral best.
Chance Rain idolizes his big brother Patrick, and with good reason. Where Chance is an unapologetic book worm in a country environment that doesn’t always support such a habit, Patrick is a young man’s man, a shotgun-toting teenager about to hit the big one-eight of adulthood. But Chance is no wallflower; he’s a crack shot with a rifle, raises Rhodesian ridgeback dogs, and can sling bales of hay with the best of them, using those scary-looking bale hooks. These are rough-and-tumble “country folks,” and Hurwitz paints them as real people with real ambitions, faults, and skill sets. They never degenerate to cardboard cutouts the way other authors might be tempted to use them. Hurwitz’s take on life in a farming community felt genuine and respectful.
It only takes a page or so before all hell breaks loose. Some neighbor folks in the little town of Creek’s Cause are climbing up to the tallest points they can find, their bellies bloated and distended, and then bursting apart, flooding the area with spores of some kind that proceed to drill out the eyes and skull of every adult in town.
That’s right. Survivors of this opening viral salvo can literally see through the heads of the victims. Hurwitz’s description of this unique image is bloodcurdling and awesome.
The victims proceed to start capturing everyone who wasn’t infected, and seem to be acting under some kind of invisible command. It soon becomes clear that the spores are only affecting adults, and those adults are capturing all the children they can find. In fact, only adults who are 18 and up seem to change into these mindless, eyeless zombies. And, oh yes, Patrick’s eighteenth birthday is in just a few days…
In other novels, such a set up might come off as contrived, and there may be a whiff of contrivance here. But for the most part, everything in the novel feels organic and realistic. The clock is running down on Patrick, and everyone in their temporary fortress of the school gymnasium knows it.
Having said that, there are three things that could have been handled differently, but none of them—even in sum—should be enough to discourage readers:
1. There is a Chosen One.
Dang it! Come on. Readers will be 100% on the side of the story’s heroes already, why must a Chosen One be announced? It seems wildly unnecessary to use this trope in a story that was doing so well at giving us everyday characters in impossible circumstances that we could root for. The Rains did not need such a revelation, except for the fact that . . .
2. This is the first in a series.
Presumably. The ending pretty much guarantees a sequel. If that’s your thing, then great. Readers preferring one-shots may be disappointed in this regard. Had The Rains focused on being one solid story, then the Chosen One wouldn’t have been necessary.
3. There was a Lucky Save.
Which is to say, one character was spared a (fittingly) gruesome death for no other reason than pure, unadulterated luck. Having said that, however, it may well be that what came off as luck in book one will have some kind of valid, contextual reason in book two.
These three complaints should not be enough to sway potential readers away from reading The Rains. The novel will grip readers by the forearm with a cold, undead clench and not let go until the novel’s final pages. Overall, it is an excellent addition to the genre.
P.S., FYI: This is definitely a book for horror fans who also love dogs.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor Teen (October 18, 2016)