Never Slow Dance with a Zombie is a novel for young adults. I read a fair amount of YA books, and I’m never quite sure how to judge them. I mean, I can tell you whether I enjoyed it, of course, but it’s hard for me to gauge how the book’s intended audience would react—I suspect in large part because I never read YA fiction when I was at that age, but only after becoming an adult who got bored with relentlessly adult novels. So, my thoughts on this book may be a little bit harder than would be the thoughts of the typical 14-year-old girl.
In general the book was charming. I took it as being parodic in nature, which, given the premise (that all but a handful of the local teenagers turn into zombies and no one notices), was not a great stretch. The story concerns Margot, who sees the zombification of her classmates as a means to achieve her dreams of high school popularity and success; her best friend, Sybil, who wants to train the zombies out of their cliques once and for all; and the two nerdy guys who dream of being school heroes when they find a cure. There are times when the human kids are working toward a common goal and times when their unique ambitions pit them against one another, but in the end they realize they have to set all differences aside if they want to win the best prize of all: their lives.
Overall I enjoyed the book. Not to sound too much like the college admissions official who read her “application essay,” but…I found it a refreshingly creative take on high school life. It kept me chuckling the whole way through, sometimes from the humor of the story and sometimes just from the absurdity of it, but it was (for the most part) absurd in a good way.
As the premise makes clear, the book is about the majority of the high school population becoming zombies. Rule for survival include “walk slowly and wear a vacant expression,” “never travel alone,” and “in class, sit quietly and wait to be called upon”—all of which could also be rules for surviving high school, period. This feeds into the idea that the adults didn’t notice anything was wrong, since the kids were acting as sullen, silent, and herd-oriented as always. The quickest way to get caught? Show any spark of individuality or initiative. But the book isn’t really advocating conformity; in fact, it is only when the still-human characters decide to go against the status quo and assert themselves as unique people that they begin to make positive strides toward a solution.
Despite its general aspect of amusement, however, I found the book didn’t quite sparkle the way I expected it to from the premise. The writing itself was crisp, and the narrative voice was strong, so the flaw was more in the execution of the whole than specific technical aspects. A lot of the ground that was tread (cliques including almost unbelievably mean “mean girls”–unbelievable based on my high school experiences, at least–and the quest for popularity at any cost) is familiar territory, perhaps to the point of being hackneyed, and it wasn’t handled in a way that was truly unique. Yes, the zombies made for a different take on things, but outside the ingenuity of their inclusion, everything else was a scene and an attitude that I’ve seen many times before. Perhaps this is simply my take as an adult, however; for a younger reader such familiar themes might resonate strongly enough to overcome their triteness. This criticism is also relatively minor, because it isn’t so much about this book being bad as it is about this book being not as good as I think it could have been.
The main problem I had while reading (as opposed to reflecting on it after finishing) was that the protagonist was not likeable. Perhaps Margot was a “normal” girl and most anyone would have reacted in the ways that she did, and so perhaps it was simply that I did not find her relatable because I am weird. But from my point of view, she was a total bitch, and a hypocrite, and I spent most of the book waiting for her to reap what she had sowed. I mean, I know teenagers are supposed to be overemotional, overdramatic, mixed up and self-deceived, etc. (I even remember being like that to a lesser degree!), but this was a ridiculous level of it. Perhaps her mentality was part of the parody? But for me, at least, Margot’s character was basically drawn too heavy-handedly as the teenager who must to learn how to interact appropriately with others, and learn to like herself. Even though her relentless selfishness and hypocrisy and downright idiocy made for a moment of extreme relief when she finally gets over herself, it was too far the other way for too much of the book for me to want to re-read it.
However. I didn’t want to not read it, so it’s a testament to how interesting the book is that I was eager to finish it despite having no sympathy for the main character.
Bottom line: Never Slow Dance with a Zombie was a fast, easy read and an enjoyably whimsical re-treading of a high school coming-of-age story. If you’re in the mood for a quick laugh and like zombies, high school drama, and slow journeys to self-awareness, this is a great choice for adult or “young adult” alike.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.