Never Slow Dance With a Zombie. I mean, come on. How could I not want to read a book with a title like that!? I dare you to read the title and not snerk just a little bit. And the cover (see right) is pretty! I’ll fully admit that I bought this book because of the title, the cover, and the fact that the zombies were, GASP, gross. (No, I’m not still bitter about Generation Dead being such a letdown. Why do you ask?).
The book, written by E. Van Lowe, tells the story of Margot Jean Johnson, intrepid high school junior who, like all geeky high school junior girls, desperately wants to be cool. She’s finally given her chance when, with no explanation and completely out of the blue, every student in the school shows up as a zombie. And these are proper zombies, complete with flesh eating urges, crumbling/decomposing bodies, grotesque smells of funk, and weird, green pallor. Suddenly, Margot is chair of the Homecoming Committee, the Prom Committee, the Christmas Festival Committee, and the Caroling Committee…all of it. Her arch nemesis, Amanda Culpepper and former It Girl of Salesian High, is stuck scrounging for raw meat. As a result, Margot, along with her best friend, Sybil, decides this will be her best semester ever.
I loved this book. So much. It was real, the voice was relatable (and appropriately obnoxious), and, most of all, it was smart. This is a smart book. As I was reading I was reminded, strongly, of Kafka. Specifically The Metamorphosis. Except instead of Margot waking up and suddenly discovering she’s a bug, everyone else is the bug. Margot has become Gregor’s sister, the one really being tested.
The rest of the students are zombies and this means that Margot is officially the coolest girl in school, so the question is: is being popular worth it? Despite being the coolest girl in school, Margot still has to go along with the pack. She can’t show originality. She can’t be unique. She can’t show any individuality lest she be eaten by her classmates. Literally. But Margot doesn’t care. She’s living her fantasy high school experience.
This is another real strength of this book. Margot is incredibly relatable. She’s not a delicate snowflake who doesn’t realize that she looks like a supermodel…she’s a real girl who, while not ugly, isn’t gorgeous either. But she’s quirky. She’s hysterical. And you can’t help but root for her. Being Margot in high school (and let’s face it, most people are), is hard. High School teaches you that you want to be with the in-crowd. You want to be the person people like. Even if you know it’s ridiculous and even if you know that the people who are the It Crowd maybe kind of suck.
That said, Margot is so real and so relatable that you can’t help but find her annoying. I’ve been through that awful seventeen year old girl stage, and I was a twit during it. But I grew up and got past that, and so I couldn’t help wanting to grab Margot by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. Knowing the things Margot struggles to figure out can make her seem petty and weak and just plain stupid. But as Margot starts to get a clue, you remember that moment when you realized how ridiculous you used to be, and your fondness for her only grows. You feel sorry for her as you see just how pathetic she is at her lowest point, and that just makes you root for her even harder.
As I began reading, I was disappointed at the cut-out-esque qualities of the “villains” in the social structure. You have the beautiful blonde who doesn’t care about anyone but herself and lives to make other people miserable so she can feel cool. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked this portrayal of the villain. That’s what high school is like. The mean girls are almost always petty and superficial and just that…mean. But that’s what they’re like in school and that’s what people see. That doesn’t mean that’s all there is to them, something Margot will learn for herself.
The genius of the book was the characterization of the good guys. Margot. Sybil, her eccentric and adorable best friend. Baron, the boy who is crazy in love with Margot and not afraid to show it. And Milton, the boy version of Margot.
The biggest weakness of this book was the ending. Not that the ending wasn’t great, because it was. but because it felt rushed. This was one of the shortest YA books I’ve read in a while, and I think it could have benefitted from another 25-50 pages. The action at the end is intense, but there isn’t a lot of time to come down from it and I would have liked that. It wasn’t a set-up for a sequel, either (though I’d love to read more about Margot, even without the zombies), so it was a little bit frustrating to know that there was no more.
My only other quibble was that, despite Margot seeming so relatable, there were a few instances when I felt like she was a little older than she should be…places where the author maybe peeked through the prose to say hi. Still, these were few and I was so busy giggling at what Margot said/did next that I didn’t care.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s funny and smart and does a great job at poking fun of what YA literature has been reduced to lately. There are twists and turns and actual plot to go along with Margot’s personal struggle, and I couldn’t put it down until complete.
Read more about Never Slow Dance With a Zombie here.