"If you've never done anything dumb, screw you because you're a liar."
This book comes with a disclaimer of what readers should expect. It promises "a gruesome, repugnant tale featuring horrific acts of violence sure to warp young minds". Considering I'm far from young and my mind is already warped, I buckled my seat belt and got ready for the ride.
Fifteen year-old Ricky and his soon to be stepsister, Michelle, traverse Harrington, Indiana with Ricky's six year old brother, Chuck, in tow. Unfortunately for Chuck, he's not so much traveling with the group as much as following a meal...because Chuck is dead. The duo embark on a mission to get to the Kirkman Soda Plant owned by Michelle's father, and ultimately find a cure for the infection waiting for them.
From the day Chuck was born, Ricky looked out for him, kept him safe, and provided a role model for Chuck to look up to. He is tormented by his inability to keep his brother safe and refuses to let go of the hope of finding the cure, assuming one even exists. Ricky's father worked in the Soda plant owned by the Kirkmans. Michelle's mother, having died three years ago from Cancer, left her father alone. Ricky's mother was lonely, and the handsome, wealthy businessman provided her with someone to talk to while her husband worked long hours. That friendship developed into more, and eventually Ricky's parents split. During one of Ricky's visits to the plant, he met Michelle. The two were oil and vinegar and it took no time for Ricky to label her a snob.
The manner in which the author introduces the infection is interesting; no radioactive spills, meteors or tainted flu shots. Instead, a new sports drink created by Michelle's father leaves consumers with the unexpected side effect of zombie-ism. Not only does conversion occur in those that partake in abundant quantities of the drink, but those who drink it and die of natural causes also reanimate.
The group is taken in by a family looting Wal-Mart and accompany them back to the New Life Christian Church. The intensity of the residents' devotion sounds warning bells for both Ricky and Michelle, but relieved to be safe, they don't listen to their inner voices until it's too late. The subtext of The Reverend's intent shines through his words like a beacon to readers, the Kool-Aid cometh. The word predictable flashed in my mind. But like any good writer, Kent put thought into how to surprise his readers. It's almost as if he intentionally leads the reader to anticipate a specific outcome, but goes beyond. All Together Now surprised me with interesting twists and an unexpected bit of pizazz.
The plot was intriguing, which kept me entertained enough to keep reading. The story is told using first person narration in the form of Ricky's journal. The narrator's use of a journal to jump between the past and present transitioned abruptly, making it sometimes difficult to identify there had been a shift in time.
A common issue I find with first person narration is that readers are limited to the accounts of a single person. Sometimes a single point of view is enough, and sometimes a good story can become a great one by showing the forest beyond the trees. All Together Now had some great story arcs, and if we weren't limited to only Ricky's perspective, it would have packed more oomph.
All Together Now struggled with characterization in both depth and development. Where I did find moments of intrigue was the resentment Ricky felt for his mother and Michelle's father. His reactions and inner dialogue added a level of humanization to the character.
While the characters and timeline could have been fleshed out a bit more, I enjoyed reading All Together Now and felt satisfied upon closing the book. At the end of the last chapter the author gives readers a choice to stop with everything wrapped up in a shiny bow or to continue on for the "whole truth". There was no way I wasn't pressing on and I must say, it was completely unexpected. I still can't decide if I should have stopped or kept going. Sometimes I like shiny bows. You'll need to make that choice should you decide to purchase and read for yourself.
All Together Now resulted in a light and easy read. It kept up a consistent pace, and while not bursting at the seems with non-stop action, I didn't find myself zoning out or becoming disinterested. Intended for a young adult audience; there was no vulgar language or sexual content. Gore and graphic scenes are minimal, but enough that consideration should be given to younger readers, which is also included in the author's disclaimer.