Zombies rise in teen lit

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Vampires have taken the teen literature world by storm, but they're not the only supernatural beings currently en vogue. Zombies, the flesh-eating, living-impaired inhabitants of campy horror flicks, are becoming nearly as common.

Pittsburgh's ties to zombie lore -- stemming from George Romero's 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead," which was filmed in the area -- combined with the current fascination with the supernatural suggest that these titles will receive a warm welcome from local teens.

"The Zombie Queen of Newbury High" (Speak, $7.99, 12 and up) by Amanda Ashby begins with a familiar story. Ordinary Mia is thrilled to have been asked out by super-jock Rob.

They've had five perfect dates and are set to go to the senior prom together. When cheerleader Samantha sets her sights on Rob, Mia becomes convinced what she needs is a love spell. Mia and her best friend, Candice, complete the spell at the senior assembly.

The next day, Rob brings Mia gifts and comments on how good she smells. Mia's thrilled until she realizes that everyone also is acting as if she's the most popular girl in school.

Her locker is filled with gifts, she's nominated for Prom Queen -- and people keep saying she smells like chicken. Mia soon learns the awful truth from the cute new kid, Chase. The love spell was actually a zombie virus that has now infected the entire senior class, and Mia is their zombie queen.

Wouldn't be so bad except that in a few short days they'll all become flesh-eating monsters, and Mia will be their entree.

Chase, Candice and Mia must work together to reverse the spell and save the students from becoming monsters and save themselves from becoming dinner.

"The Zombie Queen of Newbury High" is far from perfect. Much of the action is familiar and predictable, the language is sometimes cliched, and the ending is a bit too neat and tidy. However, the fast-moving plot laden with pop-culture references will keep teen readers engaged, and the black comedy will keep them laughing.

Stacy Jay's "You Are So Undead to Me" (Razorbill, $8.99, 12 and up) should have even wider appeal. Despite a similar character -- Megan Berry is an average girl who is dating a popular jock and looking forward to attending the homecoming dance with him -- "You Are So Undead to Me" stays unique by introducing the idea of "Zombie Settlers."

Megan is a Settler, a member of an ancient organization whose work is counseling the undead, helping them to tie up loose ends before they move on to the next stage in the afterlife.

Usually the job is easy, but in Megan's Arkansas town death has become very messy. Someone is using black magic to turn regular, harmless undead into flesh-eating zombies -- and it seems the zombies are out to get Megan.

While Megan is being trained in her skills by Zombie Settler Protocol Agent Ethan and trying to avoid fellow Settler and uber-popular cheerleader Monica, she's also trying to keep herself, her family and her best friend, Jessica, safe from the increasingly common (and voracious) zombies.

More information about the zombie Settlers organization would have made this title stronger. It's the first book in a new series, though, so readers can hope that additional details will be forthcoming.

Overall, Jay's book is another funny and engaging entry into the world of zombie-themed teen lit. And the jaw-dropping surprise ending will likely shock even the most jaded reader.

Without a doubt, the best offering of this zombie-filled spring is "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" (Delacorte, $16.99, ages 14 and up) by Carrie Ryan. Ryan moves away from contemporary fantasy and into the realm of dystopia with this title, set in a small village more than 100 years after "The Return."

Mary has spent her entire life listening to her mother's stories of grand cities and the ocean. She yearns to escape her tiny village to see the rest of the world, but most of her friends and neighbors no longer believe that anything else exists.

When Mary loses both her parents to the shambling undead who reside in the forest, she has only two options. She must marry someone she doesn't love or join the Sisterhood in the village's convent and aid them in keeping the village's secrets.

When the barriers around the village are breached by a new, fast-moving breed of Unconsecrated, Mary flees into the trails cut through the forest. These paths, maintained by the Guardians and protected from the Unconsecrated by high fences, may offer escape to the greater world -- or they may simply be a gateway to death.

Combining issues of faith, power and ambition, Ryan has created zombies that have none of the usual camp. These zombies are terrifying, yet heart-breaking, as is the entire novel, which is the first in a series.

While zombies may never be the tragic romantics vampires have become, there is no doubt that zombie novels will continue to entrance teen readers. These three will engage fans of the supernatural -- and like the creepy characters they profile, there are plenty more from where they came.

Karen Brooks-Reese is coordinator of Teen Services at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


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