Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?
Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate’s colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate’s problems, and she needs the money too.
If the two of them team up, Nate has a real shot of winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact…
This was a lovely read, with understandably flawed characters that grow over the book and scenes that were by turns funny, poignant, and a little violent. The pacing felt a bit off to me, and this is more of a happy for now than a happily ever after kind of romance, but that’s okay because these are teenagers. Also, there are robot zombies, not real zombies. We know almost from the beginning that Nate and Kate are more of an opposites attract than a birds of a feather kind of a match, but it takes a while for the characters to really get this; they also have to work out family issues and some peer pressure issues on Nate’s part. Both Kate and Nate are driven, but their goals look different.
Let’s start with Kate, because we don’t get her point of view until further into the book. This book is told from irregularly alternating chapters in Nate and Kate’s voices, with Nate starting off the book. Kate is lonely and wants to move out of her father’s house for reasons that will become clear as you read. These reasons are almost, but not quite, funny enough to be satirical. Kate’s mom died not too long ago, and Kate is emerging from that period of mourning. She knows what she wants, and it is not what her father wants; this is not some kind of “parents really do know best” narrative. So Kate is slowly working her way towards her goal when she and Nate meet at their job, and the zombie-related competition follows from there. Despite her issues with her dad and how bitter and guarded that should make Kate, she is still willing to trust Nate in the competition, even to the very end. I appreciated this about her. I also appreciated her steadfastness holding to her plan, as well as her longing for her father to do better by her. sometimes her privilege would show up, but it did so in ultimately harmless ways, not the way her father’s would show up. Ultimately, Kate gets her original goal, and a possibility at something with Nate.
Nate is also driven, but he is driven to make money. He very much feels his social and economic status in comparison to his classmates, and wants desperately to change it. Partly this is because he wants to help his parents, but it’s also because he wants to help himself. Not only is he working a part-time job while he is in high school, he has other money making possibilities all over his bedroom. The tense relationship between himself and his younger sister was portrayed well — affectionate frustration is how it felt to me. Even though he and Kate have different goals in terms of why they are interested in the zombie competition, Nate doesn’t think Kate’s goals are less worthy than his and he does his best to help her achieve them even when he’s caught between his own goals and a hard place. Ultimately, Nate does get what he wanted, while figuring out that maybe tempering those wants with fun, joyful experiences is a good idea.
This book didn’t feel like it was preaching at me, despite how I might be making it sound. It was funny, Nate and Kate have a quirky way of describing people and events that reminds me very much of talking with teenagers I know. Plus, there are moments of robot zombie zapping, which was funny and cathartic. My issue with the pacing is that a lot of the big pay off moments come towards the end of the book, and they happen one after the other, so there wasn’t really time for me to catch my breath or let the impact of those moments really sink in before we were on to the next one. Some of these moments were action driven, and others were emotional.
I anticipate reading more of Park’s writing in the future.
You can buy a copy here.