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Zombies are all the rage these days in horror fiction and film, and Allison Hewitt Is Trapped is (yet another) zombie novel by a new author. This review contains mild plot spoilers (such as: the heroine starts off trapped in a bookstore during a zombie apocalypse.)

The eponymous heroine is a young woman who’s a grad student in literature and a part-time bookseller who happens to be working at the bookstore when the inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs. She starts out trapped in a back room of the store, then circumstances force her to seek shelter elsewhere, all while trying to stay alive, locate her mother (who is stricken with cancer), and find a more permanent place of safety.

Allison Hewitt is forced to do some pretty brutal things to stay alive, including, for example, cutting off the feet of a human who has stolen food from her group and watching him be devoured by a pack of zombies (what’s the proper collective noun for a group of zombies, anyway? A shamble?) It’s not overly gory or graphic, but some pretty intense things happen, as one might expect. One of the limitations of the book’s conceit – that Allison is typing the text of the book as blog entries – we don’t see any real introspection or have a good feel for what Allison is thinking and feeling in times like these. Occasionally we get some glimpses into Allison’s psyche (in matters of the heart, for example), but we usually just get straight sequences of events narrated. That’s not all bad or all good, it’s just the product of a first-person account in which the narrator doesn’t reveal all that many thoughts.

I wish that Madeleine Roux had stuck with the “trapped” premise from the start of the book and kept Allison Hewitt and her initial companions in the bookstore or in some other enclosed space. That portion of the book was the strongest. There’s another element of the book that I thought was a very nice touch: each chapter is titled with the title of a book that fits in with the events of the chapter. It’s fun, and probably something that a lit grad student would do.

Roux is also clearly treading some familiar ground with commentary on new media and the blogging phenomenon (the conceit is that all of the text in the book is actually penned by the protagonist on her blog – see George Romero’s Diary of the Dead for a similar theme). That’s fine, but it introduces at least two plot holes that are never filled. First, Allison Hewitt only ever visits her own blog on the Internet. She never goes to any other websites or, seemingly, has any curiosity on what is happening in the rest of the world. I’d have liked to see some excerpts from other websites (news, other blogs, etc.) in the book, perhaps even as a kind of digital-age epistolary novel. That would actually be a great premise for a zombie-apocalypse-style novel, come to think of it, as well as a more developed way to comment on our society in the age of the Internet. The second plot hole the whole blogging thing introduces is that she can access the “SNet” wherever she goes, which is apparently some kind of federal government-provided national wireless Internet network. That’s fine too, but what is its purpose? What exactly is the government up to? We never once see a single federal, state, or local government employee in the entire course of the novel. Where are they? At a minimum, this is a violation of the rule of “Chekhov’s gun” (i.e., don’t introduce an element into a story if you don’t do anything with it).

Oh and while we’re on the topic of plot holes – here’s another spoiler – one of the characters is killed out of nowhere by a zombified squirrel that leaps into an apartment through an open window. That’s fine, and suitably horrific, showcasing the randomness of death in a post-apocalyptic setting, but if squirrels are capable of being zombified, then presumably other animal species are too (or are just humans and squirrels lucky enough to be affected by whatever it is that causes zombies?), and yet, not a single character ever worries about being attacked by zombie animals, even when traveling in rural and wilderness areas, and we never see another zombie animal. So what gives?

These plot holes and missed opportunities aside, I enjoyed the book – though it wasn’t amazing – and give it a slightly generous 3.5 stars out of 5. That’s mainly on the strength of the premise and the first hundred or so pages, which I found to be a real page-turner. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either, and parts are actually very good. If you enjoy zombie tales and like “plucky female” protagonists, this one’s a no-brainer. (Couldn’t resist a brain-related pun in a review about a zombie novel.)

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review. This has not influenced my review in any way.

Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers