The Zombie Effect – by Theresa Jacobs – Book Review (novella)

Angry Goat

Hi fellow 9th circle dwellers. This review will contain some spoilers, but vague ones.

Book TW: Sexual assault of a minor (by a minor), physical/emotional child abuse

The game they never should have played.

Caleb adores his friends even though he spends most of his time as a mediator to their bickering.
The one thing they all have in common is their love of zombies.
The choice to begin a zombie boy’s club is unanimous.
However, his friends take a simple game of scaring people too far.

When the fun changes to hurting innocent people, Caleb wants it to stop.
But they won’t listen, and the games grow darker still.
Caleb is afraid to tell anyone, and afraid to continue down the same path.

Will he be able to get out of the club and stop his friends ​before they go too far?

Caleb, Mason, and Ethan are a group of pre-teen friends who form a “zombie” club called The Bone Splitters. The idea is to play practical jokes, wearing zombie masks, with the childish fancy that they’ll become infamous zombies.

You know me – I’m like Mr. Potato Head with his angry eyes in. I have criticisms, but also some praise, and I’ll do my best to keep things balanced.

The story is fine – the boys form this club, and Ethan and Mason immediately take it too far, putting Caleb in an uncomfortable position at first, and then later on, a dangerous one. As plots go, I like this set up. I thought there was potential for a great, horrific, coming-of-age tale. However, I think some opportunities were missed here.

I liked Caleb and cared about his wellbeing – he’s a nice boy that comes from a loving home with his mother and sister, where fair boundaries are set, and there’s stability and routine. I very much liked being in his head while he worked his way through the turmoil his friends were putting him through, and I thought he was written well. Unfortunately, on the other hand, I found Ethan and Mason shallow. They both come from broken, unhappy homes, and they’re raging psychopaths with absolutely no empathy. I love villains, especially villains that you hate but understand, but these kids were zero-to-vile and I struggled to understand their motivations.

It was noticeable to me that the two that come from the “bad” homes are the bad kids, and the one that comes from the “good” home is the good kid, and I didn’t like it. Not because of the implication that unhappy homes breed violent lunatics, but because it felt a little lazy. It wasn’t explored all that deeply so the two characters with the most potential for interesting adolescent inner-monologues came off as one-dimensional, when they could have been layered and complex. I think it might have been much more interesting if Caleb – the one from the “good” home – was one of the baddies, and one of the abused kids was the goodie.

I do understand that the book is called ‘The Zombie Effect’ and that perhaps that’s what the author was going for – empty shells of evil/depersonalisation disorder brought out by the zombies masks, etc – I just didn’t think it worked because the baddies were too one-note for me for me to be that invested in. Then again, I’m really REALLY picky about things like this, so this complaint could just be me being an overly-critical dickead.

The plot moves along very quickly – this is one the book’s strengths. The sections are short and snappy, events unfolding quickly, and the pacing reflects the whirlwind nightmare that Caleb is in. Things move so quickly and so much is happening that the poor boy barely has a second to come to any conclusions, never mind figure out what’s best to do. The escalation of events in the story is mirrored by the writing style, which I think is really effective and lends itself well to helping the reader along on their way to panic.

The only time it felt a little jilted was when Caleb (and sometimes other characters) were trying to make sense of an event, or coming to conclusions about something that we, the reader, had already seen. For example, there’s a scene in which Ethan and Mason do A BAD THING in a maze. We see it in all its glory. Afterwards, Caleb suspects something, and then we follow him as he’s working out what happened. This was a little tedious to read because we already had the information and it was just being repeated. I think it might have worked a little better if we were in Caleb’s POV the whole time, and hadn’t witnessed the event ourselves, so then we’d discover the grisly details along with him.

Overall, I’d say this is a quick and nasty read (in a good way – this is horror, after all) that extreme horror fans would probably like most. If you’d like a burst of savagery, this is a good pick.

If you’d like to get your own copy, you can find it here:


If you’d like to check out the author, you can find Theresa Jacobs here:


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