August 13, 2009

JUNIOR ZOMBIE WEEK: Zombie Queen of Newbury High (Review)


Zombie Queen of
Newbury High

By Amanda Ashby

Penguin: 2009



4 / 5 zedheads

“Well that’s not fair.” Samantha pouted. “First I can’t eat any more cobb salad, and now I can’t eat Mia Everett?”

For an unpopular girl obsessed with Buffy and Angel, Mia Everett has suddenly become the number one item on everyone’s social menu.

First, her dream guy, the cute football star Rob, asked her to the prom! Sweet. Life is now perfect . . . that is, until Rob starts to spend more time with Samantha, the most popular and, not surprisingly, the bitchiest girl at Newbury High. Worried that she will lose Rob and end up looking like a dateless nerd in front of her classmates, Mia is willing to try anything to get Rob back, even a cockamamie love spell sold to her by a strange woman. And wouldn’t you know it: the spell seems to work! Rob is back and everything is coming up Mia! But then she notices that everyone is following her around since the spell. They're leaving her gifts of food in her locker, eating much more meat than usual, and taking a very keen interest in how Mia smells. High school can be an odd time of weird changes, but not this weird. In fact, this is totally not normal! What’s going on?

The spell has gone horribly awry; Mia’s class is slowly turning into flesh-hungry zombies! And they want to Mia to be the main course.

Zombie Queen of Newbury High is a fun and quirky little novel by Amanda Ashby that combines the humorous awkwardness of high school dating and love with the fear of being eaten alive by zombies. In retrospect, these two things aren’t all that different.

The story is primarily a humorous one and not a horror tale. There is no real explicit gore or violence, which makes it suitable for middle-school readers, but there are some excitingly tense moments. The novel’s real strength is its focus on dialogue so that the quirky characters can come to life on the page. Joining Mia is Candice, an obsessive hypochondriac, and Chase, the attractive new guy at school in her biology class. Chase is actually an undercover zombie hunter, so he and Mia work closely to try to stop the graduating class of Newbury High from getting their diplomas in cannibalism!

What makes Zombie Queen rather unique for a zombie novel is its romance subplot that unfolds within the larger story but soon becomes the climactic centre of the story. For so long, Mia has been crushing on Rob -- that sweet yet kind of thick-headed guy who thinks that “carbon footprints” have to do with shoes. Rob means well, and Mia feels especially thrilled that he’s now following her around like a lovesick puppy. However, the more time she spends with the mysterious and sensitive Chase, the more she can’t get Chase out of her head .... or heart. Does Chase feel the same way? You’ll have to find out for yourself.

You’ll also find in Zombie Queen that Amanda Ashby has set the groundwork for an interesting twist on the zombie legend. In Zombie Queen, people turn into zombies via a spell that creates a virus that transforms people in several clear stages. While alive, the infected become fixated on the one who cast the zombie spell (the zombie queen). As the infection progresses, they become increasingly more obsessed with that person and develop increasingly meat-hungry urges (i.e. eating five or six hamburgers for lunch in the cafeteria). The process culminates with full-blown urges of cannibalism – and the first person they want to eat is the Zombie Queen! So much for royal privilege. The spell can be reversed until the infected die. However, if the infected die in the final stage, they will reanimate as undead zombies and be forever one of the flesh-hungry dead.

The novel has an interesting premise with fun characters, but Zombie Queen isn’t without its flaws. There are points where the pacing could be improved by excising some of the sections of dialogue in exchange for one or more comedic or suspenseful scenes. Furthermore, you can see the climax coming even though the story tries to suggest it has been averted. However, these are minor issues that in no way hampered my enjoyment of the book.

If you like horror, sci-fi, and fantasy shows like Supernatural, Buffy, X-Files, and Angel, you’ll probably really like the tone of Zombie Queen. It strikes a nice balance of the supernatural, quirky characters, and humorous adventure. I would imagine that girls that are not especially into zombies or horror would particularly like this book. That being said, it’s a book all young readers can enjoy.

I’m GIVING AWAY a FREE COPY of ZOMBIE QUEEN to celebrate Junior Zombie Week here on The Zed Word zombie blog. I'll be taking entries for two weeks! Click here for CONTEST DETAILS

Also, check out my interview with Amanda Ashby, author of Zombie Queen of Newbury High.