How to Be a Zombie by Serena Valentino
How to be a Zombie is similar to most other zombie-related manuals in that it only takes itself half-seriously, using a sense of humor that is unabashedly tongue-in-cheek. What separates it from other zombie books—and what makes it one of the better zombie reads out there—is that, while a genuinely humorous read, it also doubles as a handy character-creation and costuming guide for those readers actually interested in becoming zombies (if only for Halloween night). It will also be especially valuable for those readers who want to throw their own zombie-themed party.
Another satisfying element of this book is its philosophy that zombies are not a dime-a-dozen type of supernatural figure; in fact, for the most part, it defies the common stereotype that zombies are simple, bloodthirsty masses of reanimated flesh. One early chapter highlights the characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and even intelligence levels of at least nine different types of zombies. These range from the moaning, shuffling Classic Zombie, which is most familiar, to the cursed Pirate Zombie and lethal Rage Virus Zombie, both popularized by modern movies. There is even a quiz included so readers can determine what kind of zombie they are (or will be)!
Many of the chapters immediately following this are where the pure humor in the book is found; these parts outline zombie anatomy, the merits of eating brains as food, other food options for zombies who are tired of brains, a list of supernatural enemies to avoid, and how to live among humans, should you find a group that’s not coming after you with rifles and flamethrowers. (There’s even a section on how to break the news of your zombification to Mom and Dad!) Much of the book’s usefulness, though, is found in the last half, which features detailed instructions on how to costume oneself as each type of zombie. A few different sections cover how to apply convincing zombie makeup (Watch out! Some of this makeup involves fake protruding bones). Another cluster of chapters places special emphasis on zombie fashion, because according to this book, not all zombies should have to wander around in tattered clothing like the Classic Zombies. (Regardless of style, though, spatters of brains and blood are a must for any zombie wardrobe.) Afterward, the book closes with an extensive list of zombie-themed songs, bands, books, graphic novels, movies, video games, and even board games for those who want to delve deeper into the realm of zombiehood.
Those who enjoy this book may also enjoy Amy Gray‘s How to be a Vampire, which follows the same format, though is significantly more somber (as vampires tend to be).
Never Slow Dance with a Zombie by E. Van Lowe
When vampires and werewolves became the objects of readers’ collective infatuation, I knew it was a matter of time before every other supernatural creature jumped at the chance for some romance. That said, I was not surprised at all when I came across E. Van Lowe’s Never Slow Dance with a Zombie. After all, if cold, marbly skin and that furry wet-dog smell can be date-able, why not decomposing flesh and general death-stink? Upon reading the back of the book, though, I realized that this wasn’t going to be a romance but a high-school parody of everything that is awesome about zombies and people who act like zombies (which was better because I’m not a romance fan, anyway).
Main character Margot is a rather average teenager. She’s not popular in school; she doesn’t have a boyfriend; she doesn’t even have a car of her own, and each of these facts are devastating to her, especially since she listed them in 8th grade as things she wanted to have before graduating from high school. About the only thing she does have is eccentric best friend Sybil (because, according to literature, all average teenagers have at least one eccentric friend), who is the ever-supportive positive force in her life. It is Sybil who encourages her to finally start tackling this list before it’s too late. Under her encouragement, Margot tries to get a boyfriend—and fails— but luckily that’s when the zombies step in to help her out.
Not that they do it of their own volition. There’s a festival in town that everyone but the main characters and nerds go to, and at school the next day, EVERYONE’S A ZOMBIE!—or at least the people who were cool enough to go to the festival. Margot and Sybil point this obvious problem out to the principal, but he’s totally cool with the circumstances, and even gives Margot and Sybil tips on how to not get eaten. For future reference: Zombies are all about raw meat. Give a zombie a rare steak, and he will love you until he finishes the steak. When he stops loving you and your steak, whack him in the face with a rolled-up newspaper. Then give him more steak. When all else fails, act like a zombie. Zombies don’t eat their own.
Margot immediately sees the potential of this situation. Within weeks, thanks to the manipulative power of meat and newsprint, she has her coveted (albeit zombie) boyfriend, is teaching zombies to do the “Thriller” dance in the pageant committee of which she is now the head, and is virtually the most popular person in school. Of course, later she does realize that she’s only popular by virtue of having a functioning brain and flesh that isn’t decomposing. And she still feels the sting of not being truly popular when zombiefied Amanda Culpepper—school Queen Bee and standard against which Margot measures herself—refuses to bite her in the ultimate act of zombie snobbery. (I mean, really. It’s a pretty bad snub when a person makes you feel like you’re not even good enough to be a zombie.)
In spite of this promisingly outrageous premise, though, the novel ends up having a rather lukewarm spirit. Margot is written with a level-headedness that conflicts with her tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the strangeness going on around her. If this was a realistic teen novel, she might work, but this is a novel about zombies, and it’s a novel in which no one is trying to shoot up the zombies (a rarity among zombie stories), so it needs to have something equally as over-the-top as a big gun to compensate for that absence. An over-the-top personality, for example—or at least a distinct personality, for that matter. The only person who shows the potential for such personality in this novel is Sybil, who even then only comes off as a watered-down Stargirl wannabe (reference: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, which does not have zombies in it, but is a wonderful read nonetheless). It’s bad in a novel when your main characters are about as unique and fleshed-out as the background characters. Especially when all the background characters are not very fleshy at all.
The real appeal in this novel is found in the sensibility that it tried to have but fell just short of truly attaining. There are some elements beyond those described that are funny just because they’re oddly believable. For example, according to the parents in this book, there’s no real difference between a zombie and a teenager, which is why the zombie apocalypse goes virtually unnoticed in the little town of the setting. According to Margot, too, there’s no difference between zombies and parents, either, because she’s able to bring her zombie boyfriend home, and instead of attacking her meaty TV-distracted dad, Boyfriend plops down on the couch and joins him in enjoying a bucket o’ chicken and the same TV.
Despite the humor in these situations, though, they, too, never fulfill their comedic potential. This is something that can be said of the entire book. By no means is the story a bad one; it’s just not as developed as a 200-page read should be.
Interestingly enough, after I finished the novel, I learned that the writer was actually one of the brains behind Disney’s Even Stevens, which was one of my favorite TV shows back in the day. That said, I could easily see the story in this novel being a successful TV special, condensed into an hour-long experience. Expanded into three plus hours of mental effort, though, it almost wasn’t worth the energy. It’s ironic—or perhaps appropriate—that it’s better suited to a media that makes its watchers look like its subject matter.