(Goodreads summary here.)
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. It has not impacted my thoughts given here.**
I really wanted to like Undead Girl Gang. However, as I got into it, I realized that it just wasn’t my cup of tea. There were a lot of things about it that I really enjoyed, but on the whole it just fell a little flat for me.
I think the main problem for me is that it’s the kind of story I would’ve like 5 years ago. And that’s nothing against the book, just a matter of taste for me. I don’t usually make these kinds of excuses for books, but I do genuinely think it’s a great book for middle and early high schoolers. It is by no means a bad book; I just didn’t enjoy it. I guess I should have seen it coming–the book is marketed as young adult–and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. I always find that there are different types of YA novels: ones that are geared toward that younger audience and ones that are on the cusp of being geared towards adults. I think that because most of the YA I read and enjoy falls into that second category, I forget that not all YA is like that. This book is definitely in that first category, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it just means I’ve outgrown that type of book.
The writing style was quick, witty, and unapologetic but not for me. I think a lot of it is because a lot of the books I’ve read recently have been more introspective and literary in their style, and this book is not that. It jumps from one part of the story to another and is very dialogue-heavy. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just not what I like to read anymore. Maybe if I had gone in expecting this style of writing, I wouldn’t have been as put off by it, but I must have been expecting more complex prose. I might have enjoyed it if the story itself was more interesting, but I wasn’t terribly invested in that either, so there wasn’t much to make up for not liking the writing style.
That being said, there were parts I really liked. I really enjoyed the positive messages in the book. For one, the main character, Mila, is immensely body-positive, a theme that is fortunately becoming more and more common in young adult books. I think it is so important for young kids, girls especially, to see characters who are happy with themselves the way they are physically. Anderson doesn’t flinch around these matters, and any other characters who mention Mila’s appearance in a negative way are immediately shut down. I’m very happy we’re seeing more of that. It also addresses issues of diversity, which is incredibly important. Although they are not the root of the story, it’s important to see that non-white characters in everyday narratives.
Undead Girl Gang is an admittedly bizarre mix of genres, and yet Anderson makes it work. I’ve described it to friends as urban fantasy meets zombie novel meets murder mystery. It seems like it should be too much jammed into one book, but the story balances the three in ways that aren’t overwhelming. I think the murder mystery is the core of the story, and the other elements are there as additions to keep the narrative moving in new and unexpected ways. I love books that cross genres and cross them well, and this book does a phenomenal job of that.
Mila has a particularly unique voice as the narrator. She isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, regardless of what people will think of her, but we see that she still has a habit of overanalyzing what she does. It’s significant that Mila’s character is shown to have doubts despite her bravado, since it shows that not everyone is as confident as they seem and that there are different sides to her character that makes her more human. I did have some issues with Mila’s obsession with Xander. For the most part, I’m really tired of the lovesick heroine pining after the best friend’s brother. It can be done well, but I wasn’t especially interested in that part of Mila’s character. Fortunately, it’s not central to the story, but it is talked about enough that, more often than not, I was rolling my eyes at Mila’s infatuation.
I know that Mila is the protagonist, but I felt as if the side characters weren’t thoroughly developed. As I’ve said before, I really love character-driven books, and having more than one fleshed-out character is essential to that. Riley has a lot of potential to be an amazing side character with a lot of depth, but because Mila seems so invested in her own life and the way Riley was when she was alive, her character development gets brushed over. The same goes for Dayton, who is by far my favorite of the undead trio. She is so sweet, almost to a fault, and we get to see Mila learn to love her, even though they didn’t know or like each other when Dayton was alive. I really wish Anderson had spent more time on Dayton’s development. She only gets a single scene towards the very end of the book to prove that she has matured, that she is more than just the airhead everyone seems to think she is, and I think that’s a huge injustice to her character. Dayton is so close to being a well-rounded, complex character, but can’t quite get there because she doesn’t have enough screen (page?) time. June doesn’t change much as the novel progresses, but we learn more about her that changes the way we see her. She’s definitely a “learn to love despite her flaws” kind of character, which is important, especially in a book like this that explores the complexities of teenage action.
A lot of the plot elements are really predictable, which I find pretty annoying. I feel the need to discuss them a bit, so spoilers below.
First, of course Mila is in love with her best friend’s brother. And of course he secretly loves her back. Because that’s how real life works, right? I get that this is fiction and Mila does bring people back to life, so I guess it’s not exactly limited by the constraints of reality, but I am sick and tired of this trope. Can someone please come up with something more interesting? Unrequited love sucks, but it makes for a pretty darn good plot device, one that certainly adds more to a character than getting what they want. Sure, Xander turns out to be some sort of psychopath who kills people out of revenge for treating his sister poorly and Mila has to come to terms with that, but it was so boring to have to read about her fawn over him. Then he admits he’s always loved her and they immediately start going at it? Yeah, I’ll pass on that one, thanks but no thanks.
I think it’s pretty easy to see that it is Xander who is the killer in this one. No one else really fits the bill, and even though Anderson clearly tries to make Caleb the main suspect, it doesn’t add up. I think that is a major issue with the mystery aspect of it: there is only one true suspect. Once you rule Caleb out, there aren’t many people left and only one makes any real sense, and that’s Xander. His whole character is the stereotypical faultless honor student who is too perfect to do any wrong, so naturally he’s the murderer. He’s the person you’d least expect to kill someone, so of course he tops the list of potential killers; you can usually count on the unassuming, perfect one to be the killer.
Overall, I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend this book. Maybe if you like books geared towards a younger audience, you’d enjoy it. But if you’re like me and like YA that’s almost not YA, you can pass on this one.
What books did you not enjoy because of the writing style? Do you expect a certain level of maturity in the prose of a book?