Review: Reawakening by Charlotte Stein [NSFW]

Reawakening by Charlotte Stein - Reviewed on Clear Eyes, Full ShelvesIt has recently come to my attention that Clear Eyes, Full Shelves has been pigeonholed as a YA blog—while simultaneously being blocked from several servers for indecency.

WTF? How dare they constrain us to simply a single category? We’ve got our own official adult romance correspondent! We review everything from the latest True Blood to Japanese horror novels! And when did chest-waxing become an indecent topic*?

In an effort to really earn that indecency label and prove, once and for all, that we aren’t only interested in YA, I decided to review Reawakening by Charlotte Stein, a book about how the zombie apocalypse forced a one woman and two hot men into a threesome.

Yeah, you read that right. Zombies and the fun kind of threesomes. (You get this is NSFW, right?)

Reawakening takes place two years after zombies have changed life forever. No-one’s really sure what caused the crisis; no-one knows what changed the majority of the population into strange creatures that sure resemble zombies.

‘They’re not even fuckin’ zombies, really- people just went crazy, you know they did. Probably, like, some mutated rabies virus or some shit like that. And I bet it weren’t even a bomb or some kind of chemical warfare. I bet it was something fuckin’ ridiculous, like GM crops or a new kind of Aspirin.’

Civilization has crumbled, leaving random pockets of survivors and a hell of a lot of flesh eating creatures. June has managed to survive the zombie apocalypse (so far) but she’s definitely hurting. She’s rescued in the first chapter by a weirdo in a Hawaiian shirt named Jamie who takes her to his safe island.

Jamie lives on an island fortress, surrounded by mines, alarms and all sorts of weaponry along with his friend Blake. At first June has difficulty adjusting to this new, less dangerous reality. With such an impregnable fortress between them and any danger, Blake and Jamie haven’t had to abandon everything that makes life worth living.

She stopped dead in her tracks, unable to process for a second. The sound bellowed out from the kitchen, so loud and alien she couldn’t grasp it. She could grasp things like screams, growling, warning shouts. Other noises were not permitted during the apocalypse and, even if they had been, she still hadn’t heard anything like this in an age.

Two years, she thought. Two years without music.

After years of terror and brutality she has a hard time adapting to this strange new life. At first she’s nearly catatonic, barely speaking, unwilling to relax enough to sleep. Slowly, as she gets to know her companions, she starts to relax.

It helps that she’s with two really awesome guys. Jamie is playful, silly, and scarred. He knows how awful people can be but he doesn’t let that stop him from hoping.

When she’d asked him what sort of society he’d go about rebuilding, the night before, he’d replied one where everybody took better care of each other.

And she could feel that that was true in everything he’d built here. In this aisle, she could see all kinds of things beyond simple rations. How-To manuals on comforting subjects. Carefully saved boxes of candy kisses and pancake mix. Just good stuff- warm stuff.

Before the apocalypse he was some sort of secret government operative. Now he just goes on one hopeless rescue mission after another, trying to save anyone he can. So far, he’s only managed to save June and Blake and every time he fails another mission it kills him a little.

Blake seems solid and almost unfeeling by comparison. He isn’t as dramatic or expressive as Jamie, but in the end he’s equally sensitive and very introspective.

‘I did a job that now means absolutely nothing, and I lived a certain rich, superficial sort of life that means even less. And then one day it all disappeared.’

Rather than reacting out of fear or anger to his new situation, lashing out at those around him, he retreats into himself. He recognizes that he’s strong and scary to June, so he does everything in his power to give her space and be gentle with her. He puts both June and Jamie before himself and it’s clear he cares about them both deeply.

Even surrounded by such wonderful people, in such a safe place, June has a hard time transitioning from her survival mindset.

Letting go of the fear happens bit by bit but reclaiming normalcy is an even more difficult proposition. It’s awkward for her to pick up old habits as though nothing has happened; even conducting simple conversations is a stretch.

‘I have to…go upstairs, now,’ she said, but it came out abrupt and awful. Like something only a total social reject would say. If she’d crouched and pooped on the carpet she didn’t think it would have made her seem any dumber, or more awkward, or what was that thing she was supposed to be aware of, now?

Oh yeah. Social ineptitude.

Though thankfully, neither chose to remind her of how much she sucked at living. Or at the very least neither of them shouted the words social retard up the stairs after her, which was a bonus, she felt.

Though it was less of one when she finally shut herself in the bedroom, and realized she couldn’t have made sense of anything that had just happened with a map, a flashlight and a guidebook entitled How To Navigate Social Landmines Before You Poop On The Carpet.

And of course the sexual tension doesn’t make anything simpler.

In the beginning sex and romance are understandably the furthest things from her mind. She’s frightened and she distrusts these two stangers who have entirely too much control over her future. Slowly, as she relaxes and learns to trust them, she realizes she’s attracted to both Jamie and Blake.

Unfortunately, at this point in the book Stein indulges in some apparently unavoidable Big Misunderstandings.

Do Big Misunderstandings happen in real life? Sure, but not nearly as often as they occur in books, even with an extra person to add to the confusion. I wish Reawakening had sidestepped this rather over-used plot device, as well as some unnecessarily long dream sequences.

While I wasn’t as thrilled with the way Stein engineered the relationship, I truly enjoyed watching it develop. Jamie and Blake both seemed like three-dimensional,** fully realized characters whom I wish I knew in real life. The complicated dynamic between these two men and the woman they love was heartwarming to read about. I loved the dialogue, the sense of rapport these three had with each other throughout the most awkward circumstances.

‘You wake her up.’

‘I ain’t waking her! You do it. She’ll like it, coming from you and your handsome hair.’

‘Will you shut up about my hair? I’m getting a complex, man. What if she only likes me for it, huh? What then?’

‘At least you have hair.’

‘What are you talking about? You’ve got loads of hair. Your hair is fantastic, and you don’t even do anything to it. You just get out of the shower and ffft. It’s like that. Seriously- I wish I had your hair.’

‘Really? I was thinking of parting it the other way, you know? Like this?’

‘Oh yeah? No, no- that’s good. Not that I think she’s particularly interested in your hair, though.’

‘What else do you think she might be interested in?’

‘I’m not going to say it out loud, Jamie.’

‘No, come on. Now we’re talking about it.’

‘We’re not talking about it.’

‘I mean, is it my ass? I knew you’d been checking me out!’

‘This is not a discussion I want to have while in bed with another naked man.’

‘It’s kind of weird when you’re in a threesome and one of you falls asleep.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Then it’s just two guys talking about their asses.’

Stein’s sense of humor leavens the entire book, transforming a somewhat ridiculous concept into a truly interesting character study while her writing hints at greater depths.

Sure, on the surface both zombies and threesomes seem rather gratuitous, meant to grab the reader’s attention without engaging their minds. They are both subjects one might expect to find in the latest summer blockbuster rather than any thoughtful, Oscar-bound film. However, I think there’s an interesting parallel between the zombies and the polyamorous relationship.

Bear with me here. I think it’s the desire to truly LIVE, to suck the marrow out of life (if you’ll excuse the phrase) that characterizes the actions of everyone in the novel. The zombies can only cling to a pale imitation of real life, consuming other people in an attempt to become more real. Likewise, June transitions from a half-life full of fear to fully embracing all the possibilities available to her. She isn’t content to wander through life experiencing only half the world, only half the love.

Instead she grabs ahold of her options, as ravenous to experience everything as the zombies who chase her. Her actions aren’t inherently parasitic and harmful like the zombies’ are, but they are both born of the same instinct to devour life. I was particularly intrigued by this correlation even though Stein mostly focused on the plot itself. Her writing was witty and her characters well developed, although the plot devices were occasionally wearisome and a suspension of disbelief was necessary in order to truly enjoy the novel.

In the end I truly enjoyed Reawakening, imperfect as it was, and eagerly look forward to more books by Stein. Even if she never decides to delve more deeply into the subjects she glances past, her writing is delightful (and steaming hot) as it is.

Kindle / Nook / Goodreads

Reawakening is currently only available as an ebook.


*Editor’s note: It is a known fact that chest waxing is indecent. ~S
**Editor’s note: “Three-dimensional.” Hahaha! (Yes, I am very ~S 

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