5 stars upon finishing, but now that I think about it, it's more like 4 or 4 ½, depending on my current mood of interpretation.
John "Stony" Mayhall is a living dead miracle who defy all odds, logic, laws of physics, our understanding of anatomy and physiology, our sense of "living" and "death," etc. He lives despite not having that spark of life, he grows despite not having proper bodily functions, and he ages despite time not being a factor that should affect him. And he thinks, not only intelligently, but deeply and ponders questions like, "What is that spark of life?" and "How am I moving and thinking but not really living?" Important questions (for both the living and living dead).
One cold blizzard evening, Wanda Mayhall and her daughters come upon Stony and his birth mother by the side of the road, almost frozen and certainly looking dead. Stony's mother doesn't make it, but miraculously he does. The Mayhalls bundle him up and bring him back to their farm and then realize what he is, a zombie baby. He seems almost like any average human newborn, except for his gray skin and inability to eat or sleep. Wanda decides to keep and raise the baby on the farm, instead of informing the authorities.
Stony grows despite all the things mentioned in the above paragraph and learns to live as human. However, there's always something missing or feels not quite right in his life and he doesn't realize what it is until he meets other living dead and live among them. Then to his disappointment, he finds out he's not quite like other zombies either because he was raised by a human family, which brings up that age-old question of nature vs. nurture.
This is mostly a story of a boy coming of age in the late 60s/70s in a time of intense persecution. It's alternate, yet family history. The War in Vietnam never happens and the Cold War never happens either. Instead the US government is fighting a silent war against an unstoppable viral outbreak that, if spread again, can spread at an alarming rate. The world Stony lives in is a world that traps itself in a police state for fear of another outbreak, and while people comply with zero-zombie-tolerance laws and regulations, there are some who help the living dead as part of a network that runs all across the country.
The zombie virus causes the infected to die a physical death while exhibiting all the classic zombie traits, like a bout of fever, mindlessness, a hunger for human flesh, and a gray skin tone. The infection is passed on through saliva entering the bloodstream. After 48 hours, the infected regain control of themselves and a majority resume whatever state of mind they were in before the infection, though there are a few who never recover. The living dead can die and be killed, but they don't feel pain or heal themselves. Though no exception to the limitations of zombies, Stony is a special case because he grows and achieves a level of body awareness that's never been seen before. He comes to understand why "the stick" moves and what actually makes it move.
It's fun to see Gregory's interpretation of classic zombie lore and how he develops them further. I've always had an appreciation for sci-fi / fantasy writers who can incorporate real-world science into their imaginary worlds. Gregory does it in a believable way. I hope this is where the zombie genre is heading--less mindlessness and flesh-eating; more focus on thoughtfulness, the science of viruses & outbreaks, and zombie physiology.
What keeps this story from a 5-star rating is the unusually huge jumps in time. There are a couple that jump over a decade or so, and that's just too much time lost (from a reader's perspective). Other than this one minor thing, I really like the direction in which Gregory takes his zombie story, and I hope he's planning to write more.