"The Breadwinner" Book Review
Written by Stevie Kopas
2013, 139 pages, Fiction
Released on July 7th, 2013
Problems plague the citizens of Paradise Bay; loveless marriages, schizophrenic girlfriends, the living dead. But of The Breadwinner, the first in Stevie Kopas’ trilogy, the larger problems are the failures of the writer and her editor to tell a truly new zombie story that doesn’t relegate itself to tired stereotypes, offensive mistakes, and a plot that goes nowhere slowly.
As The Breadwinner opens, we meet Samson, a high-profile lawyer to low-brow criminals. He forages for food and supplies to bring home to his beautiful and cold wife Moira, who still carefully tends her makeup and clothing choices while belittling her well-meaning husband. Mind you, this is the only woman we meet for the first 25 pages and she’s a monster. Upon one of his many escapes from his family, Samson comes across Veronica, a 16-year-old modeled somewhat upon Katniss Everdeen but without any of the redeeming love in her heart. We then jump backwards for Veronica’s story (which is unnecessary since we could glean what happened with hints dropped in the forgoing narrative) and we meet the Iraq vet Ben and restauranteur Sal who helped Veronica survive thus far. Lucy, Sal’s wife, is a meek and fearful creature whose panic brings an army horde upon her husband and their group. Again, this is the third woman we meet...and she gets two men killed. Ben survives an ambush, but loses track of Veronica in the process. Enter Andrew, his brother Clyde, and his schizophrenic girlfriend Juliette to take Ben in and help him out of the city.
That’s right, Juliette is schizophrenic.
As a female writer, I find Kopas’ take on women startlingly angry. Even Veronica, who she desperately wants the reader to adore through constant mentions of her being “wise beyond her years” and “the bravest of them all”. She’s written as a generic teen heroine yet is supposed to be the shining beacon of hope for us. What made Katniss forgivable was her devotion to her sister; her need to care for someone better than herself. What made Hattie (True Grit) so strong was that despite her fear, she loved her father enough to put herself in danger to find him. When Veronica loses her family, she declares that she will survive on her own and forsakes Ben when he’s under attack. Moira never loved Samson, she only loved his money. When he’s forced to deal with her demise, we don’t care. He has no love for her; we can have no love for him. Lucy screams hysterically when her husband is threatened and even when she is warned she will cull the zombies, she keeps screaming like the lunatic weak woman of the 1950s who needs to be slapped. Juliette is a selfish, lazy, nagging, legitimate psycho. The men, while not perfect, are still all redeemed in one way or another. As The Walking Dead certainly doesn’t help end female stereotypes (Lori is a whore, Andrea’s a bitch, Carol’s useless, Michonne is AWESOME), I would hope a female writer would take a step in a new direction rather than repeat the failures of the past.
In the same vein, I find Kopas’ description of Clyde, Andrew’s gay bar-tending brother, extremely stereotypical and insulting. His room is painted in shades of purple, which Ben decides is “obviously gay” because purple is apparently a gay color. He has feather boas strewn around his headboard. Everything he does is “dramatic”, apparently the only way to describe him as the word is used multiple times. His yell is described as “feminine” by the author, as dismissive a word as could be used for him as a stereotype and not a person of flesh and blood we are meant to see.
Those are a large number of people to take offense with, but to be fair, the overcrowding began long before Andrew showed up. Kopas switches perspective frequently, so much so that no one is the hero. While that works for The Walking Dead, or any long-running series, in novels and films it doesn’t. Shaun of the Dead is only really about Shaun. World War Z is only about the individual being interviewed in the specific chapter. The shifts happen mid-chapter, from paragraph to paragraph, not allowing the reader to settle at one point and really get to know a character before jumping on and leaving us unsatisfied.
Ms. Kopas’ writing is juvenile and unpolished. She’s very young and motived, but that doesn’t make up for research and originality. If Ben was truly in a fully-stocked CVS, he wouldn’t grab a “random set of cigarettes”; he’d take his brand. Three smokers confirmed this. Because I asked them. Research completed. This genuinely feels like a The Walking Dead fanfiction where the names were changed. The Walking Dead isn’t even a good model to use. The lack of new ideas lends the whole story a stale taste. There’s no universal message behind this story; we learn nothing from these two-dimensional characters as they bumble around the pages.
Beyond any of these plot and character issues, the truly unforgivable part of The Breadwinner are the eight glaring grammatical errors in the first book. A published book, even self-published book, must must must must must be grammatically correct. The written word is sacred and there is no excuse for eight mistakes.