08 July 2020

Review | The Rise of Zombert by Kara LaReau


Could Bert really be a zombie cat? Two friends put their brains together to find out in a wry new mystery series.


While helping her best friend, Danny, film his latest horror flick, Mellie discovers a scraggly cat behind a dumpster outside the YummCo Foods factory. Mellie names the stray Bert and hides him in her room, knowing her parents won’t let her keep him. But soon Bert has decapitated all her stuffed animals, and before long he is leaving the headless corpses of birds and mice as gifts for her. Danny is convinced the cat is a zombie, li
ving on the brains of his victims. But is that what is really going on? 

Award-winning author Kara LaReau lets loose a fresh and sharply funny new mystery series, with an irresistible touch of the macabre. Fans of creepy stories and animal lovers alike will devour this fast-moving first episode in one gulp.



   



I decided earlier this year to start including middle-grade reads on CLC for a variety of reasons. I remember the love that I had from a very early age of horror-leaning books and how much joy it brought me. Including middle-grade allows me to reconnect with some of the nostalgia of my youth and it also permits me to read more diminutive stories that aren't so heavy topic-wise. There's a different focus in middle-grade horror as well. Friendship and family are so often at the center of the narrative, encouraging a completely distinctive read.  Rise of Zombert seemed like a perfect pick!

The story centers around friends Mellie and Danny. They do everything together so when they find a mangy stray cat in the garbage can, they quickly secret him to Mellie's house. She can't tell her parents about him because she's afraid they won't let her keep him. Besides, her parents are clearly distracted by her younger twin siblings and the family blog that her parents run. Everything in this house is about getting the perfect shot or the best blog title or the perfect photograph! So much so that Mellie is able to hide "Bert", as she dubs him, pretty effortlessly, simply because her parents aren't paying attention. 

Speaking of Bert, he's not your average cat here, but you knew that already from the title. In fact, Bert aka Y-91 somehow escaped from an animal lab run by YummCo. Everything in the town is run by YummCo, but no one really knows what is going on behind the scene and poor Bert has been at their mercy for who knows how long. Mellie finding him finally gives him a place to recover and he does so immediately by killing small animals and insects and eating their heads. Yum. Of course, he's sweet by bringing the headless corpses back for Mellie. Is he a zombie? What has YummCo done to him?

Rise of Zombert was a bit difficult for me as an animal lover. We have no idea what type of testing the facility is doing behind closed doors and Bert is in pretty rough shape when we first meet him. He frequently spends time thinking about those he left behind and he promises to go back for them which is heartbreaking. I didn't expect it to be so sad! Of course, there's the frogs, and birds and squirrels and the myriad of other creatures that Bert hunts and kills. Kids will probably enjoy the grossness of Bert crunching his favorite part, the heads! 

What I did like were the main characters. Mellie is adorable, smart, and very resourceful. Danny is everything you want your childhood best friend to be, loyal and kind. There's lots of fun dialogue between these two dubbed the Weirdo Twins by the class bully—who maybe is just really misunderstood. Even Mellie's family, in spite of being distant in the beginning, eventually come around in a sweet, supportive way. The illustrations peppered throughout are well done and added so much to the story. It also has a split narrative, going back and forth from Mellie and Danny to Bert and to the YummCo lab assistants tasked with finding the wayward kitty. 

Don't expect a happy ending from this one though. It's the first episode of Zombert's story, so there's an abrupt finale. I actually kept turning blank pages at the end thinking maybe there was an issue with my copy! I wouldn't even call it a cliffhanger. It literally just...stopped. No closure of any kind. No big build-up. It just ended. I was disappointed that there weren't really any answers given. 

I can see younger kids loving this one. It's not spooky or scary and reminds me a lot of the Bunnicula series by James Howe, though Bert doesn't come anywhere close to being the narrator that Chester is.  Is Bert really a zombie kitty? You'll have to read the series to find out.