But somehow, it feels different. Everything in Maplecrest feels different.
I went into Zombie Blondes (2010) by Brian James hoping for a fun spin on high school drama. All those oh-so-perfect popular kids … what if they’re really zombies? What poetic justice that would be. It sounded like a light read and a good break for the winter. But what I ended up with was a lot more brainless than I expected.
The book is all about Hannah — Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. She’s just about the most selfish and unsympathetic teenage character you can happen upon. She’s moody to her father, rude to her friends (and might-be friends), and self-pitying even when things are going her way. I know the author was probably trying to make these qualities endearing — a grumpy but lovable misfit who just wants to fit in — but on Hannah, they’re ugly colors.
She’s the new girl in school, and the closest person she has to a friend is Lukas. She flips back and forth from liking him (and calling him cute) to badmouthing him in private and calling him crazy and a freak. Her mixed signals are confusing and annoying. Poor Lukas puts up with all her crap, and even when he gets mad at her and keeps his distance, he winds up forgiving her and suffering more of her insults.
Hannah acts this way because she wants so desperately to be normal, but Lukas is never good enough for her. She’d rather be friends with the popular girls who treat her like dirt. And her self-esteem is so low that when they finally stop humiliating her and inviting her little by little to “become” one of them (quite literally, as they’re a zombie recruitment death squad), she falls for it. Completely. As long as their words and actions seem genuine, she’s more than happy to join them even when it means shrugging off everything that makes her unique.
Every cheerleader on the team is alike — unnaturally so, and that’s what Lukas tries to convince Hannah of all throughout the book. But she’s too naive or too in denial to recognize the countless signs (two plus two equals ZOMBIES), and she doesn’t trust her gut until she sees the most gruesome evidence laid out before her. I have a hard time empathizing with a character who lies to herself so much and treats good people so poorly.
The climax — the big reveal — doesn’t happen until very late in the book, and then it plays out like a bad horror movie action scene. Before this, Lukas constantly refers to comic book zombie stories as a cliché way of explaining what’s happening at their school, and he continues to use them here. Author Brian James doesn’t take advantage of the larger metaphor at work, either — that people can be flat-out undead zombies but also the figural kind. He does establish a few connections, but they’re so minor that you barely notice. He misses out on a lot of potential.
James’s writing is a letdown. I’m not fond of how often he resorts to fragments. I know they’re done stylistically, but it just feels lazy.
He also leaves some gaping plot holes, and it’s not a very long book — only 232 pages in the hardcover version. Most of my questions are about the last few chapters, so I won’t spoil it for you. The final scene packs a nice twist, but the ending is terse and kind of disappointing.
Bottom line: Zombie Blondes is a weak zombie book that caves to bad horror movie resolutions.
What I liked: You’ll at least feel for the characters even if Hannah herself is one of the most unlikeable protagonist I’ve ever read.
What I wasn’t expecting: A drawn-out, uninspired, and forgettable story.