Agoraphobia, COVID-19, and the Zombie Apocalypse

Like you, I have been watching what is happening to the world from the view window that is my computer screen. And I will admit, it’s making me a bit extra. One facebook thread from a man in the Chicago area made me very worried for all those infected with the virus. (It reminded me a lot of my allergic reaction to macrobid antibiotics.) And an instagram post from a pregnant woman made me feel so compassionate for those experiencing huge life changing experiences at the same time as a global pandemic. And the rationing of medical treatment in Italy… well, let’s just say, that broke my heart.

Last year, when my former therapist was diagnosing me with a plethora of new disorders (I sometimes question these diagnoses because they all seem to be just indicators of my autism, but nonetheless) he also diagnosed me with agoraphobia. I think it was my panic attacks while driving on bridges that was the deciding factor for him. That and perhaps my anxiety in stores? Or taking busses? Or the post office? Oh wow, I just checked out a layman’s definition of agoraphobia- it says, “you fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd.” Well, then. My apologies to Jack. That’s right on target.

So, I have agoraphobia. Which means on any given day, the world outside of my house has always felt incredibly dangerous. Now that it potentially is dangerous, that agoraphobia has gone into overdrive just a bit.

So how do I deal with that?

Honestly, thinking about my agoraphobia always makes me think about my love of zombie novels. I love, love, love zombie novels. I have about five hundred pages of an unfinished zombie novel that will probably always be unfinished because I keep re-writing it like I’m JRR Tolkien. A bizarro Tolkien who secretly likes the idea of a world that requires you to board up the windows. Why was I questioning that diagnosis again?

Anyway, sometimes when I get anxious about the real world, it actually helps to read about a fictional world that has it way worse. It’s kind of like when I was sick as a child, my favorite movie to watch was Outbreak. I know, I was a sick kid, in more ways than one. But perspective can be helpful. Even if it’s fictional perspective.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to offer you… wait for it…

My top ten zombie novels (!!!)

Yes, I do feel like I am treading on the toes of good taste with this one, but distraction is a form of therapy. And zombie novels are a great distraction. Also, this is going to be the biggest top ten list because many of these are actually series with three or more books. So, this is a deal really, is what I am saying. Anyway, book descriptions are taken or paraphrased from Goodreads.

So here it is! The top ten zombie novels in descending order:

#10 The Enemy series by Charlie Higson

When the sickness came, every parent, police officer, politician – every adult fell ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. Only children under fourteen remain, and they’re fighting to survive. Now there are rumors of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city – down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground – the grown-ups lie in wait. But can they make it there… alive?

Okay, so I have technically only read The Enemy, the first in the series by Charlie Higson, but what I did read was fantastic. It was a very interesting concept, and the setting of London was very different for a midwestern girl like me. My only real problem, was also one of the things that I liked best about the novel. This book is about children. A lot of times when a book has a teen protagonist they often still act like adults, or are expected to act like adults. But these are children for sure.

My problem comes from the fact that I am a mom. It was very hard for me to read about children in distress and not get overly anxious. Babies in pain, and for me “babies” has always meant anyone under the age of twenty, even when I was not much older than that myself, but babies in pain has always hurt me just a little bit harder than anything else. It has to be most compelling book in the world for me to continue, and The Enemy came very close. I am certain that I will finish the series one day.

#9 Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl gregory

Speaking of babies, the next one on the list is very interesting..

In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the womans arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda and he begins to move…

So essentially it’s about a zombie baby who was rescued and raised as one of the Mayhall family. It has a very interesting idea of what “powers” a zombie. Then it gets into the politics of a world with zombies still hidden amongst us… extremely creative, good writing, and a great story. Very cool, two undead thumbs way up.

#8 Rise again series by Ben Tripp

Sheriff Danny Adelman, a troubled war veteran, thinks she has all the problems she can handle in this all-American town after her kid sister runs away from home. But when a disease-stricken horde of panicked refugees fleeing the fall of Los Angeles swarms her small mountain community, Danny realizes her problems have only just begun – starting with what might very well be the end of the world.

The things I really enjoyed about this one was the variety of interesting characters and the unique form in which the virus took hold. I won’t give any spoilers about that, you’ll have to read it to find out. The second novel in his series is also very good. It has more of an I am Legend by Richard Matheson vibe.

One quick warning- I went into this novel not knowing a thing about it and he didn’t use pronouns on the main character for what felt like half of the first chapter, and because of societal precepts, I thought it was a dude? So when he finally said “she” I had to go back and read it again. This is not a complaint. I think it’s cool that he upends gender stereotypes. It just might save you some time to know that Danny is a badass bitch- not a dude.

SIDE NOTE: If you are uninterested in gender and writing skip ahead to #7, but this brings up probably my only problem with genderfluid or non-binary characters in writing. (Danny from Rise Again isn’t genderfluid from what I can tell by the way, I’m just going off on a little lavender tangent here.)

I haven’t been happy with the representation of genderfluid characters not because they aren’t good characters but because they haven’t been written clearly yet. With non-binary or genderfluid characters, you can’t rely on archetypes to push your readers to conclusions about the character’s general appearance, so you need to properly describe that character in a way that gives a very clear picture. Otherwise it pulls you out of the story.

This also is my problem with “they” as a written pronoun. It’s not that I don’t approve of the use of this pronoun for non-binary or genderfluid folks, I do. They should have whatever feels right to them. What I don’t like is that it makes for muddy writing. When/if I write a non-binary character, I might use a “zi/hir” pronoun, because I believe non-binary people deserve better than the singular they, if that makes sense? At least when it comes to writing. But perhaps that would be silly to genderfluid people? I’m sure, when I write that character, I’ll have the good sense to ask the non-binary, genderfluid community. Ok, back to the list.

#7 The Reapers Are Angels by Alden Bell

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.

Years later, I’m pretty stoked to remember that the main character’s name was Temple (Shoutout to the one and only Grandin.) I don’t recall that she was autistic, but she had this wonderful way of looking at the world. As only a child that grew up in a post zombie apocalypse world could. The zombies are just apart of her life, really. As natural as any other predator we might have faced in our “less civilized” past. She also had a tendency to find these beautiful details that others might overlook. One thing that really resonated with me is how well Bell wrote Temple’s rage. As a person with occasional anger issues that arise from stress around my autistic traits, it really struck a chord with me- how she tried to control it, but the emotion just couldn’t be contained… I’m of course now realizing that I really need to reread this as a post-diagnosis autistic person. I imagine that it might be a completely different book.

Beautifully written, and has a sequel that I have yet to read- Exit Kingdom. This is one of those novels that shouldn’t even be considered a “zombie novel.” It’s art.

#6 The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad…

This is another one of those “zombie novels” that is more art than mere book. It is that good. In fact, in the making of this list and I was super excited to find out that it has a sequel! The Boy on the Bridge is definitely going in my queue.

This is one of two books on this list that were made into movies. I think the movie of this one was certainly entertaining, but just doesn’t compare to the book.

#5 World War Z by Max Brooks

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. 

This should probably be higher on the list. In fact you could probably consider the top five to be a quintuple tie because they are all really, really good for very different reasons. Max Brooks wrote World War Z in such a way that it feels so real. They are separate stories, so it’s something that you could read on and off over a time, or you could binge read it for all its amazingness at once.

One warning- if you have trouble getting into books, beware that the first short story is very dry and meant to read like fact-driven non-fiction. It made me put it down for an unforgivable amount of time. When I finally picked it back up again I was so sorry that I hadn’t continued. ALSO, this is the second book on my list to be made into a movie. It is almost nothing like the movie. So don’t think that you know this novel after watching Brad Pitt traverse the zombie infested globe for two hours. The movie is also fantastic, don’t get me wrong, it’s just very different from the novel.

#4 Until the end of the world series by Sarah Lyons Fleming

Cassie Forrest isn’t surprised to learn that the day she’s decided to get her life together is also the day the world ends. After all, she’s been on a self-imposed losing streak since her survivalist parents died: she’s stopped painting, broken off her engagement to Adrian and dated a real jerk. Rectifying her mistakes has to wait, however, because Cassie and her friends have just enough time to escape Brooklyn for her parents’ cabin before Bornavirus LX turns them into zombies, too.

Okay, you might find it interesting that this is so high on my list, when I have called the last three books, pieces of art. First, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. That font makes it looks like this story is going to be about a teenage witch (I wouldn’t mind a story about a teenage witch in the zombie apocalypse, this just isn’t it.)

But what I love about this story is the characters. There are a plethora of fun and interesting characters, with lots of interpersonal relationships going on along side some fun “how to survive the zombie apocalypse” scenarios. But most of all I love the sheer amount of novel there is to enjoy. Technically, there are three (and a half) novels in this series, BUT there is a companion series with three more novels!

I started listening to the audiobooks of this series when I had one of the worst bouts of strep throat/flu in my life. So it really kept me company in all the delirium. I’m looking forward to listening to them again. It will probably feel like a whole new series without the painful coughing and fever.

#3 The City Series by Sarah Lyons Fleming

Sylvie Rossi has the loner thing down pat, with the exception of her best friend, Grace. But when the two are trapped in a hospital during the last gasp of a dying city, alone time is no longer an option. A nurse’s offer of sanctuary promises Sylvie the supplies she needs to survive the zombies–it’s the coexisting with people that might do her in.

This is the companion series to Until the World Ends. It can technically be read before or after Fleming’s other trilogy. They have connecting characters, but none of the events really effect the other more than an easter egg style excitement.

I actually like this series better than the original Until the World Ends series, but I definitely liked both. It kind of reminds me of The Walking Dead? So big fans of The Walking Dead would be into both of these series in my opinion. Lots of guilty pleasure, lots of great relationship drama. Numbers 5-7 are better written than Fleming’s books, but sometimes you just want a series to meander through. Fleming is no slouch either, she will break your heart several times over these pages.

#2 THe Forest of Hands and Teeth Series by Carrie Ryan

In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must finally face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?

This is probably one of my favorite book series of all time. Not just favorite zombie novel. It’s just several really, really good novels, with a wonderful kind of world building around the ruins of a zombie apocalypse that happened long ago. Also, for a fun little tid-bit. When this book came out Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was a bestseller, so Carrie Ryan had a promotional campaign of “Eat prey, love,” that has always made me laugh.

#1 Newsflesh series by Mira Grant

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives—the dark conspiracy behind the infected… The truth will get out, even if it kills them. 

Ok. Although this list is full of books that may have more beautiful writing per page, none of them quite have the world that Mira Grant built in her Newsflesh series. It’s kind of the opposite of Forest of Hands and Teeth in that her world became more futuristic instead of primitive.

Mira Grant (a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, by the way) also writes in a very interesting structure that I’ve always found so intriguing as a writer, using blog posts to change the style of writing seamlessly from one character to another, and back to the story again. It’s very, very cool and probably, along with it’s amazing world building, is what makes it #1 for me.

Bringing it all full circle, in the third book of the Newsflesh series, there is a resort for the reclusive super rich called “The Agora.” How hilarious is that? Get it? Agora-phobic. Oh well, it made me laugh. And if you can’t laugh, well.. we all know the rest.

And yes, the quarantines we are all facing can and will makes us all feel like crying. It will also make it feel like this is the end of the world. But I hope that many of us will come out of this somewhat intact and ready for recovery, very soon. Until then, happy reading.

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