Dust - Joan Frances Turner Another Book Bites the Dust

NOTE: I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program

Nine years ago, Jessie and her parents died in a car accident. Now, Jessie is among the undead, the "zombies". She is a part of a gang in the Great River County Park. But things are taking a strange turn. A "hoo" (human) woman is found in a state not quite human, not quite undead. And their leader, Teresa, is beginning to look more human. What is happening...and does it mean death for the undead?

I Liked:
This is definitely not your stereotypical zombie story. While my zombie knowledge is restricted to one fan fic, the movie "Shaun of the Dead" and plenty of second-hand mythos, I do know that typical zombie movies include humans chopping up the "invading" zombies. "Dust" isn't that book. Instead, it shows how zombies are capable of teaming up, communicating, and forming their own societies apart from human societies.
The main character, Jessie, was a decent character. Her past made her a sympathetic character, she was competent and close to the action.
My favorite characters were Florian, Linc, and Renee. Florian was old and wise, always giving out helpful advise. His death nearly brought me to tears. Linc was a great friend: kind, caring, looking out for Jessie, siding with her, and supporting her. Renee was cool, because you saw what it was to first join this society of undead. She had to suffer with bullying, but eventually, she pulled out and grew a backbone (ha!).
The concept is interesting. As I said above, this isn't a stereotypical zombie novel, and the whole reason I picked up this book (not being a zombie fan) was because of this new perspective. Plus, I thought it ironic that Jim (Jessie's brother) would create something that would kill humans and regenerate zombies.

I Didn't Like:
Let me get this out of the way: If you are in the slightest queasy, then drop the book and run. This is probably the grossest book I've ever read. Yes, I understand it's a zombie novel, that should be expected to some extent, but I couldn't help but feel that the grossness was concentrated on too much. We read numerous descriptions of the state of decay of the characters, of killing deer and other wild animals, of eating said animals and their entrails, and other disturbing descriptions. For me, it was far too much, and I nearly abandoned the book for that reason.
Now that that's out of the way, there were other problems with this book that made me bored, frustrated, and upset. The first was our main character, Jessie.
Jessie had a backstory that made me sympathize with her, but there was almost nothing to her character, other than her intense anger at "hoos". I understand the humans were trying to kill the undead, but how about instead of being angry and spiteful all the time, trying to communicate with the humans and reach an understanding? You know, get the humans to give the undead space, instead of cowering in a park and griping about how bad humans are? I know not all humans would be open to that, but Jim is an example of how communication between the two worked. And isn't it strange that she hates hoos so much for hating her...isn't that a little hypocritical? How can she be on her high horse looking down on hoos and expect to come out on top to the reader?
The other characters have lopsided results. It's obvious we are supposed to miss Florian (which I do), but Joe? Joe was a creep, from page one. I didn't like him in the beginning and was actually glad when he was gone. Furthermore, apparently Jessie really liked Joe and was nearly romantically involved with him. I say "apparently" because I never got any of that, not until Joe dies. Their chemistry was nill, Joe's character was nill, Joe's appeal was nill. Renee, I suppose, wasn't meant to come off as interesting as I found her. Lisa was bland. There was an interesting thread about her daughter, but that never went anywhere. Jim was horrible. I tried to like him, but he was disgusting and always conveniently appeared when the plot dictated (somehow reaching the beach before Jessie? How does that work?). And what was the point with Sam, Mags, Billy, and Ben? They all left or died anyway. Seemed a waste of time to include so much time with characters that go nowhere.
And while I loved the concept of the novel, I felt a huge opportunity was missed: the great debate on what is "living" and what is "dead". While a few moments glimpsed it in passing, I felt on the whole it was glossed over. Jessie would just start to bring it up, to think about it, then...bleh. Nothing. Next scene.
As for plot...gah! Astoundingly underwhelming and horrible. The basic plot, I suppose, is this plague that kills living and undead. Number one, wasn't this book touted as a new take on zombies? Why are we abandoning this concept in favor of the stereotypical "zombie creation and fighting" narrative (only slightly twisted in that humans don't turn into zombies, both turn into something new)? Number two, I have never seen a plot thread so badly mishandled. The only way the plot ever moves is the introduction of characters: the drunk woman, Renee, Teresa, Jim, Florian and Jessie's messed up dreams (more on that in a bit)... That is not the way a good plot moves. A plot moves fluidly, from one state of being to another in a manner appropriate to the characters and situations, and not in abrupt jolts when characters arrive to exposit for pages on end. Jessie does no investigating, no clue-seeking, not even a dorky Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys investigation that at least would propel the story somewhere! No, the author is forced to drag characters to where Jessie is and have them explain to Jessie (and the poor confused reader) what is going on.
Furthermore, these conversations are A) too long, B) too wordy, and C) unnecessary. Instead of having Jim come to Jessie and exposit that he created the virus, how about Jessie do some investigation? Tap into a computer network? How about Jessie hunting him down and getting him to help her investigate Teresa's changes? Anything that would not include having a character come and spend 20+ pages explaining why he or she is here! But, of course not! Why have something showing Jessie's character when we could fill pages with circular conversations, Jessie being angry (shock of all shocks), and info dumps?
And this leads me to Florian. Ah, poor Florian. After Jessie seems to die the first (second?) time, Florian comes in one of those lame dream sequences to exposit to Jessie what is happening and what she needs to do. I'll say, if done well, this could be good, but the way Turner does it just makes me want to hit my head against a brick wall. How does Florian know about this meteorite? Why is he telling them to go to the beach? And if this is Jessie's mind/sub-conscious, HOW DOES SHE KNOW THIS??
If you take out the whole plague plot, all you are left with is a rather boring picture of the life as an undead. Zombies fighting with each other. Zombies complaining about hoos. Zombies hunting. Zombies walking. Zombies eating. Zombies dancing. Huh...am I detecting a pattern in here? Perhaps...if we took away the "zombie"...WOWSER! I just had a revelation! Without the "zombie" in this zombie novel, this could almost be snuggled into the "literature" section next to all those "cozies" about life on a farm or in a new small town. Weird...
The conclusion is so full of horse manure, it's sick. Probably the weakest, most unsatisfying, most WTF conclusion I've ever read. What was the point? What does it all mean? What happened in the rest of the world? What did Jessie learn? Don't expect any answers!
The whole tone of the novel is unclear. Partly probably since Jessie was a teen when she died, the novel does sound like a teen novel. However, I would never recommend to that age group, what with all the f-bombs. So that leaves me more than a little confused as to who the audience is.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
F-bombs abound. Also expect milder curses.
Jessie likens killing another zombie to what sex must have felt like.
Tons of violence. Jessie loses her arm in the first page. The zombies tend to fight each other at the slightest provocation (this is explained in the book, though, as an attribute of being a zombie). A human woman stumbles upon the zombies, and she eats a squirrel, vomits, chokes, and dies. Take that image, multiply it by twenty and you have this novel.

Overall:
I was optimistic about this book. And there were parts that weren't bad. But even gross factor and the fact that I read an uncorrected proof aside, I don't think this is a well-written book. Jessie is a one note character, the plot is so hinged on characters it's frustrating, and there is little about the book that makes it worthwhile zombie reading.
I know the recent trend is to take classics and insert vampires, zombies, werewolves, and sea monsters. I almost feel this book is the exact reverse: to take zombies and make them human, only removing the thought-provoking conversations and inserting a pedestrian plot. It's too bad that a book marketed as a new approach to the zombie fiction ended up leaning back upon the same zombie stereotype.