So, you’ve patiently watched each episode of HBO’s THE LAST OF US (or maybe you binged it all in one sitting, in which case I’m impressed by your restraint). But Season One has wrapped, and you feel empty inside again (except for the hot ball of fire that is your shock-and-awe at the finale/love for Daddy Joel/knowledge of what comes next – if you know, you know).
Well, I’m here to help. Here are 9 books to shove inside that gaping hole where your heart used to be. But keep in mind – THE LAST OF US isn’t really a show about zombies. Not even close. If you ask Neil Druckmann (writer/director of the games and co-creator of the HBO series), he’ll tell you it’s “a compelling story that has this universal message and statement about love.”
So, I’ve chosen 9 books that reflect that sentiment.
We also have a list of 4 TV Shows to watch now you’ve seen THE LAST OF US.
Disclaimer: it should go without saying, check trigger warnings for each book before reading.
1. TENDER IS THE FLESH by Agustina Bazterrica
“Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore.”
If you’re looking for something that will evoke the kind of moral dilemma TLOU is known for, TENDER IS THE FLESH is the one for you. In this Spanish dystopian horror (translated to English by Sarah Moses), an infectious virus has rendered all animal meat poisonous, and as a result, “special” human meat has become the go-to substitute. Marcos is only doing his job – slaughtering – while handling deeply relatable issues like his divorce and his father’s dementia. But when he gets too close to a particular specimen, he begins to truly grieve what the world has lost, and wonders what he might do about it.
2. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey
“Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.”
Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if Ellie had succumbed to her bite? What if that happened, but she also kept her consciousness? THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS gives us just that. 12-year-old Melanie is a zombie, attending “school” and learning about the world from her favourite teacher. She doesn’t understand why all the adults are afraid of her, until everything goes awry. Although often heartfelt, this book isn’t a “young adult” or WARM BODIES situation. The emotional moments hit hard and the action is brutal. If you need a fix of young-girl-and-parent-figure-who-protects-her, grab THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS now.
3. THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
“A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.”
When asked for book comparisons to TLOU, Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD is always the first answer. Exploring many of the same, dark themes, THE ROAD is a brutal, disturbing, and profound take on hope and love in a post-apocalyptic world. Much like Ellie and Joel, the father and son characters are on a cross-country journey to the coast. The story follows them through extreme environments, roving bands of survivors, and doing whatever it takes to stay alive.
4. THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell
“Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.”
It is twenty-five years after the world’s collapse into chaos. Just like Ellie, Temple is too young to know what came before. She too, has lost everything; her brother, her caretaker, her safety. Set on a gorgeous frontier backdrop with a smattering of horrific violence and lovely fenced communities, Bell’s story follows Temple in her search for somewhere to call home, and her inner struggle of whether she even deserves that much.
5. SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay
“In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. […] Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. […] society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.”
One of Tremblay’s best, SURVIVOR SONG follows pediatrician Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman after she receives a phone call from her heavily-pregnant friend Natalie. In a failed attempt to save her husband, Natalie has been bitten, and her only chance of survival is to get to a hospital to receive a rabies vaccine. In a journey to top all apocalyptic journeys, Natalie and Rams make their way through a terrifying, hostile landscape. Unlike most zombie stories (TLOU included), SURVIVOR SONG is on a very tight timeline, keeping its heroes constantly moving and epically fast-paced.
6. A BOY AND HIS DOG AT THE END OF THE WORLD by C.A. Fletcher
“My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.
Then the thief came.
There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you. Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?”
TLOU meets JOHN WICK, anyone? While, no, A BOY AND HIS DOG AT THE END OF THE WORLD isn’t as awesomely, ridiculously violent as JOHN WICK, you can see where I draw the comparison. What it does have, however, is a beautiful, imaginative, and harrowing ode to loyalty and love; the story of a teenager who will do whatever necessary to protect his own – human or not. The world and characters are wonderfully thought out, and Fletcher’s prose weaves a tale that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
7. SWAN SONG by Robert McCammon
“An ancient evil roams the desolate landscape of an America ravaged by nuclear war. He is the Man with the Scarlet Eye, a malevolent force that feeds on the dark desires of the countless followers. His only desire is to find a special child named Swan—and destroy her. But those who would protect the girl are determined to fight for what is left of the world, and their souls.
In a wasteland born of rage, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, the last survivors on earth have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil that will decide the fate of humanity.”
Think TLOU on the most epic scale. Published in 1987, you might wonder if this post-apocalyptic saga will read as dated and strange – but no, SWAN SONG is as fresh, hellish, and relevant as any recent dystopian horror. SWAN SONG is both humanity at its worst and, sometimes, at its finest. With elements of fantasy and military sci-fi that weave seamlessly into freaky-weird horror, SWAN SONG has a near-perfect score on GoodReads and is sure to leave you shocked, heartbroken, and entirely satisfied.
8. THE GUNSLINGER by Stephen King
“He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake.”
If I’m including Stephen King on a post-apocalyptic novels list, why am I recommending the first installment of THE DARK TOWER series rather than THE STAND? It’s because of what Neil Druckmann said at the start of all of this: these books make a statement about love. THE GUNSLINGER is set in a sort of apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s the series as a whole that will have you thinking about Joel and Ellie. Not only are Roland and Jake sometimes a total mirror, sometimes the complete opposite, but the moral decisions that Roland is forced to make are eerily reminiscent of Joel. But be warned: once you read THE GUNSLINGER, you’re committed to seven (amazing) books, each of which will break your heart in a different way.
9. SAFEKEEPING by Karen Hesse
“Radley just wants to get home to her parents in Vermont. While she was volunteering abroad, the American People’s Party took power; the new president was assassinated; and the government cracked down on citizens. Travel restrictions are worse than ever, and when her plane finally lands in New Hampshire, Radley’s parents aren’t there
Exhausted; her phone dead; her credit cards worthless: Radley starts walking.”
Although the only official young-adult entry on the list, SAFEKEEPING doesn’t skimp on the moral dilemmas, dark themes, and harrowing twists. This book examines Radley’s fears, guilt, and grief (and a lot of dumpster-diving), and is bound to make you uncomfortable. SAFEKEEPING is in no way violent or gruesome (it is YA, after all), but it depicts with frightening probability what it would be like to be a teenage girl, alone, as the world falls apart.