'Z' a zombie book with moral overtones

Josh is your average teenager. He loves hologames. Especially one in which the goal is to torch as many zombies as possible.

The year is 2032. And Josh’s mother is not at all happy about his virtual-reality obsession. The zombie-hunting game is based on a real war 15 years past when a flu-like virus transformed people into the walking dead. The war was before Josh’s time, but not his mother’s. Her mother and father were killed by her sister, who was infected with the virus. She tries to explain to her son why she objects to his gaming.

“The game is disrespectful,” his mother said. “That’s the best way to put it. Turning a war into a game minimizes how horrible it was for the people who fought in it, lived through it — died in it,” she finished.

“I never thought of it that way,” Josh admitted. “But I’m not killing people. I’m killing meatbags.”

“What did you call them?” his mother asked. Her face was reddening.

“It’s just what we call the zombies,” Josh explained. “It doesn’t mean anything. Besides —”

“Is that what you think your aunt Lucy was?” his mother cut in. “A bag of meat?”

“No!” Josh objected. “But that’s different. She was a person.”

“All the zombies were real people,” his mother said. “Every last one of them. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Though chastened by his mother’s rebuke, Josh can’t help but respond to the request from the topped-ranked player in the game: Charlie wants to meet him. He’s shocked to find that Charlie’s a girl and even more surprised when she invites him to play the game IRL — in real life.

Josh is thrilled at the prospect of joining a group of underground gamers. But he soon finds out that things are dark underground, and real life can have real consequences.

“Z” by Michael Thomas Ford adds an interesting perspective to the zombie catalog. Ford ably weaves lessons in morality into a story that’s fairly gory for a young adult novel. The book certainly seems relevant given the recent release of “Medal of Honor,” a game in which players can portray Taliban militants and kill U.S. soldiers.

Moral lessons aside, “Z” should appeal to readers interested in zombies, young adult fiction and horror. And of course there’s the gamers. “Z” could possibly get them to put down their controllers.