"What is normal?"
It's a good question, and one you'll never look at quite the same way again after reading Amanda McNeil's Waiting For Daybreak. Taking her inspiration from I Am Legend, Amanda offers up a first-person exploration of the last human being on Earth scenario . . . but then ups the stakes with a narrator who was already asking the question "What is normal?" long before the world devolved into a mass of angry, violent, brain-eating zombies.
Frieda is a young woman with a borderline personality disorder, one that causes dissociative fugues where she becomes angry and violent, and leaves her with no memory of her actions later. As if that weren't enough, she also suffers from anxiety and depression, often resorting to self-harm in order to alleviate the psychological pain. Despite that, Amanda portrays her more as quirky than crazy, establishing her as a very likeable, extremely sympathetic character. It quickly becomes clear that her personality (and the isolation it imposes upon her) is largely responsible for her being spared from the outbreak.
The first half of the novel is like a diary of her survival. We learn about how she's fortified her apartment, how she's cultivated balcony and rooftop gardens, and how she deals with the Afflicted (i.e. zombies) who get too close. We also get to explore a bit of her back story through her memories and musings on the last few days of her life before the outbreak. Where the story takes an interesting twist is when her cat, her sole source of companionship, becomes ill. Forced to embark on a dangerous scavenging mission to the veterinary hospital across town, Frieda leads us on a frantic chase through the ruins of the city, confronted more than once by the hungry, only to discover there's at least one other human being left alive.
The second half the novel then becomes something of a post-apocalyptic love story. It's an interesting and awkward romance, one that you want to succeed for Freida's sake, but which you just know in your gut can't end well. Convenience and desperation are never a solid foundation for a relationship, and when both lovers suffer from their own issues with depression . . . well, the potential for disaster looms large. This is where Amanda really gets to the heart of the novel, using Freida and Mike to question just what is normal - pre and post apocalypse - and whether it's better (or, perhaps, easier) to just be like everybody else.
I won't spoil the ending, but it took a turn that quite surprised me, leading to an action-filled climax that worked exceptionally well. While I found it a little light on detail on some areas, and felt as if there were some secrets about Mike that were hinted at but never fully revealed, the writing is solid, the dialogue creatively engaging (even with Freida's silent cat), and the novelty of the personality issue alone definitely makes this worth a read.