This book really deserves a four and maybe five stars. I'm just not interested in zombie stories, though, so it didn't really reach me on the level it probably earned.
At heart, this is a rather fine story about a mother and her son. That eternal, binding relationship that ties two people together through hardships that would otherwise have destroyed them both. Zeke is a boy struggling with ostracism brought on through no fault of his own. As the son of the man who destroyed Seattle through greed and brought the "blight" onto an unsuspecting population, Zeke is looking for redemption, though he doesn't seem to know it—for the father he's never known, maybe, but for himself, certainly.
This yearning for better prompts him to enter the walled-off city center where the blight has been contained—along with the "rotters" whom the blight has transformed into masses of hungry, relentless undead. He doesn't expect to be long because he has prepared. He has his gas mask, a loaded pistol of unknown functionality, and a map that should lead him to his family's one-time home. What he doesn't expect is that his mother, upon learning where he has gone, ends up following him into the abyss in the hope of rescuing him from his folly.
Both mother and son have issues to work through in their journey—both external and internal. They fall in with people still living in the blight, both friends and foes, and have to work their way towards each other and some resolution of their shared inheritance.
This may be the best book I've read with a mother/son relationship at its core. Their relationship is a tenuous one due to the long hours Briar has had to work in the only crap job she can hold (due to her marriage to the madman who destroyed their hometown). She has obviously done her best, and Zeke acknowledges as much—he isn't the spoiled, ungrateful child a lesser author might have made him. But he also chafes under the bitter life he is forced to lead and wants to make things better by proving that his father wasn't the black-hearted monster history paints him to be. And since his mother has refused to tell him anything about those days, he figures he'll have to find out the truth for himself.
Needless to say, Zeke finds more than he bargained for and Briar, well, she does as well. They emerge with a stronger relationship and a mutual trust they hadn't known before. While neither could say their journey had been a "good" one, it's hard to imagine either of them regretting it, in the end.