Author: Kirsty McKay
Genre: Horror, Speculative Fiction, Zombies, Apocalypse, Young Adult
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: September 2011
Hardcover: 304 Pages
It was just another school trip… When their ski-coach pulls up at a cafe, and everyone else gets off, new girl Bobby and rebel Smitty stay behind. They hardly know each other but that changes when through the falling snow, the see the others coming back. Something has happened to them. Something bad…Soon only a pair of double doors stand between those on the bus and their ex-friends the Undead outside. Time to get a life. Author Kirsty McKay is a major new horror/thriller writer for ages 12+. Terrifyingly accomplished and blackly funny.
Stand alone or series: Can be read as a stand alone novel, but potentially could be part of a series(?)
How did I get this book: ARC from Publisher
Why did I read this book: I hadn’t heard a bit about this book, so when Ana brought it with her from the UK, I was (naturally) thrilled. Zombies, high school kids, a class trip gone awry…this has Thea-crack written all over it.
Bobby’s had a rough year – leaving her friends and home back in the US, she’s yanked back to the United Kingdom for her mother’s job. Even though she and her family are from Britain, having lived in America for six years, Bobby’s Yankee accent and vocabulary marks her as an outsider to her peers. Forced on a painful, inescapable class trip to go snowboarding in Scotland (according to her mother, it will be a healthy way for her to mingle with her peers and make friends..but what do parents know), Bobby counts the seconds on the school bus headed home, ready to end the prolonged torture. When the bus stops at a cafe – the last outpost for food and toilet for a long ways – rather than deal with potential stares and teasing from a mob of hungry teenagers, Bobby decides to stay behind on the bus with only the resident class bad boy, Smitty, to keep her company (as he’s been reprimanded and restricted from getting off the bus). But soon, it becomes clear that things in the cafe are not all peachy – especially when one of their teachers shambles out towards the bus as one of the newly risen undead, hungry for warm, human flesh.
With the help of Smitty, the pretty, popular Alice, and class nerd Pete, Bobby has a horde of the undead to face, a blizzard a comin’, and no where to turn for safety. With only a school bus running on fumes and a snowy wilderness around them, the teens have to rely on each other to survive.
There’s little ground that hasn’t been covered in zombieland. Seriously. In the past few years, zombie fiction and film has undergone a type of…renaissance, for lack of a better word. Everything from goretastic zombies, to thinking-man zombies, to bleak apocalypses, to romance, the role of the zombie in pop-culture as of late has taken a singularly influential role. In Undead, Kirsty McKay treads exceedingly familiar ground – but with enough flair to make a genre fan feel both comforted and entertained. I loved the mix of characters, which reads like a sort of Breakfast Club of zombie apocalypses – the burnout, the prom queen, the nerd, the outsider. As a protagonist, Bobby is refreshing as the shy, but somehow incredibly badass with her own, quiet courageous manner. She’s also charmingly unreliable as she sees herself as a total outsider, but that perception becomes questioned later because of the reactions of others implies that this exile from her peers is somewhat self-imposed. There’s this great tension in her first-person narrative, too, because Bobby undergoes a crisis with her British and American identities – because though her family is British, growing up in the US means that she not only sounds different from everyone else, but her vocabulary and slang is a little off-kilter (i.e. she frets about her choice to say “chips” – as in potato chips – instead of “crisps” and there’s a great pivotal scene in which she has to figure out which way a date must be entered as a password: day/month/year in the British tradition? Or month/day/year in the American one?). Beyond Bobby, the other characters are entertaining, if somewhat stock. Alice is annoying, screamy, and basically worthless; Pete is more than sufficiently brainy (if completely socially inept), and Smitty is the Bender of the group with his swagger, penchant for hot-headedness, and rapscallion brand of charm. I liked the gradual, horror-genre appropriate romance that develops too, since it’s…well, gradual, and none of this paranormal-y YA crap that quickly devolves into twu wuv fowevah and evah because OMG that boy is soooooo freaking hawt and when he touched [insert heroine]’s hand, it was like, electricity.
From a pure storytelling perspective, Ms. McKay does a fantastic job of pacing the novel, mixing in a good amount of conspiracy with her reanimated corpses. I liked the sort of X-Files twist to the plot, combined with a 28 Days Later species of zombie, Furthermore, I loved that the kids in Undead KNOW what zombies are, have seen the relevant films, and understand how to kill them. The story plays with a number familiar tropes – the school bus, the ski trip, the isolated castle, the responsible corporation/governing body – and juggles them all with considerable skill. Although I knew exactly where the story was going, although there isn’t really anything new or groundbreaking here, and although I have seen this type of story many, many times before, I was thoroughly entertained by Kirsty McKay’s debut. Enjoyable, fun, suspenseful, gory when it needs to be….Undead is exactly what I expected, and delivered all that I needed. Fun, and recommended for those looking for the next fix of traditional, zombie fic.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Audio excerpt is available below:
Additional Thoughts: Aaaaand there’s a book trailer! Check it out:
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
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