Lately, I’ve been on a quest to read self-published young adult fiction, mostly because I’ve noticed that self-published authors tend to take more risks when crafting their stories. The reasons for this are obvious: there is no middle-man, no editor, and even more importantly, self-published authors do not face issues such as censorship and the de-gaying of characters. During the winter break, one of the most interesting self-published gay YA novels that I read would have to be Logan Kain’s The Dead Will Rise First: A Manuscript Found in What Was Known as Texas.
I thought the book’s cover and the title were intriguing, but what ultimately captivated my attention was the novel’s unique premise: during the rapture, the souls of Christian believers are whisked away to heaven, leaving behind the mortal bodies that these souls inhabited. Given that these bodies (known as the “freed” or “the neighbors” in the novel) no longer possess a soul, they don’t have a consciousness that allows them to deliberate between right and wrong. The “freed” still possess memories of their past lives, they can think, they can organize, and they can feel certain emotions, but they do not fear death, and more importantly, they give in to any carnal or primal desire that they feel. Thus, they eat human flesh, they rape anyone that arouses them even in the slightest, and they burn houses in a demonic and celebratory fashion. The freed are like a more evolved and perverse type of zombie, capable of thinking and of dying, and cursed with the insatiable urgency to unleash their id (in a Freudian sense).
In the midst of these events, the novel focuses on a group of “survivors” who are not transported into heaven during the rapture due to their lack of faith or belief in God. The protagonist of the story, TJ, is one of these survivors. Early on in the novel, TJ reveals that he is gay, and when I first read the novel, I thought that the narrative was insinuating that TJ wasn’t raptured by God because of his sexual orientation. However, the reason TJ was not “rescued” has more to do with the tumultuous relationship that he develops with God because of the tension that exists between his sexual orientation and the unwavering demands of religion. The novel hints that TJ’s parents and religious figures within his community try to coerce him into living a celibate life in order to assure that his soul would be free from damnation, but TJ finds it difficult to suppress and ignore feelings that come so naturally to him. Because of the contradictions that arise between his feelings and the teachings of the church, TJ proclaims his hatred to God–which thus prevents his soul from joining the ranks of heaven. TJ ultimately rejects the possibility that God has good intentions, and this rejection is fueled by the repercussions produced by the rapture itself. Not only is he unable to be saved, but now he must struggle to survive in a world in which the “freed” have become morally corrupt rapists and flesh eaters:
“God, I don’t get you. First, you say in the Bible being gay is wrong, and then you make me gay. I pray and pray and beg to be straight and you don’t let that happen. If that wasn’t already enough, you let everyone turn into monsters, and now, now that everything has gone to Hell around me, you put Ryan right next to me. Well God, I’m done playing by your rules. Do your worst.” (location 822)
The Dead Will Rise First explores the extent to which our lives are predestined to end up in a certain way, and even more so, it explores how social constructs such as culture and religion regulate bodies to the extent that non-normative individuals aren’t able to thrive or live a comfortable life. TJ’s story illustrates this tension: because religion tries to regulate his sexuality, TJ ends up hating God and religion. Because he hates God and religion, he is unable to be saved and must now live in a world ridden with flesh-eating rapists.
Kain’s novel beautifully discusses the notion of survival and livability, and this is perhaps one of the text’s greatest assets. Naturally, livability and survival are prominent themes within most (post)apocalyptic fiction, especially when it comes to texts with zombie-like creatures. This novel possesses many of the elements and rituals found in most, if not all, “zombie” fiction–such as the search for food and weapons, the creation of shelter, and the struggles of power and sanity that manifest in small communities. However, behind these orthodox struggles found within the genre, we witness how TJ contemplates the woes of not being able to live the way he wants to due to the restrictions imposed on him by religion and society. Before the events of the rapture, it can be argued that TJ’s queer self was struggling to live and to survive, and even before the advent of the “freed,” TJ often confronts mindless and insensitive subjects who threaten to eradicate TJ’s queerness with no solid rhyme or reason. It is thus slightly ironic that the end of the world is approached as an event that allows TJ to fully embrace his sexuality and put it into practice–although after the rapture, he struggles to survive in a physical sense, his sexuality is given a space to thrive due to the obliteration of socio-cultural and religious restraints. With the end of society comes the end of regulation. Does this imply that an apocalypse is necessary for queerness to thrive? Maybe not an apocalypse, but definitely a dramatic reconfiguration of norms and regulations as we currently know and live them.
This novel offers wonderful food for thought, and overall, I thought it was a clever satire with great moments of suspense and thrill. I did think that certain elements within the novel were rushed, particularly the central romance that takes place within the novel–but after careful thought and consideration, I’ve come to appreciate this rushed nature. After all, given that the characters are put into a hopeless and precarious situation, I understand that they have little time to overthink and to overanalyze their feelings. The end of the world forces the characters to think and act quickly, and given that death always seems to be lurking around the corner, they must deal with their troubles with more immediacy and urgency.
Another element that sets this novel aside is its tone, its directness, and its harshness. If you are a fan of happy outcomes and happy endings, this is not a novel that I’d recommend to you. However, if you appreciate unhappy endings and outcomes as a method of delivering an important, thought-provoking message, then you should give this novel a shot. Rather than focusing on the novel’s lugubrious and somber events and consequences, why not trying focusing on the reasons the novel demands its particular ending and its gloomy outcomes?
You can purchase a copy of Kain’s novel here.
Kain, Logan. The Dead Will Rise First: A Manuscript Found in What Was Known as Texas. Smashwords, 2013. Amazon Kindle E-book.