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Never Slow Dance with a Zombie cover

E. Van Lowe's Never Slow Dance With a Zombie is a rarity in young adult fiction: an unabashedly silly send-up of paranormal romance novels.

Margot Jean Johnson and her best friend, Sybil Mulcahy, haven't gotten many of the things they've wanted out of high school so far. No boyfriends, no parties, no popularity. Margot hasn't yet succeeded in besting queen bee Amanda Culpepper in the school's social hierarchy. Sybil dreams of eliminating that hierarchy all together.

But the outsider status that depresses the girls turns out, for once, to be lucky: because Margot, without a date, skips the local carnival, and Sybil stops by only to realize how lonely and bored she is, they miss whatever mysterious person or thing turns all of their classmates into zombies. When they show up at school the next day, they're the only students who aren't green-skinned and craving human flesh.

This puts them in a strong bargaining position with respect to their school principal, who doesn't want to alert local authorities to his zombie problem lest he lose the district supervisor job he's been angling for. In exchange for giving positions on the prom committee and cheerleading squad to Margot, and the head lunchroom monitor gig to clique-annihilating Sybil, Principal Taft gets their silence. The two girls just have to make it through the semester without being turned into zombies themselves.

They figure out a few simple survival tactics, including blending in by shuffling through school hallways the way the zombies do, wearing fish oil (zombies hate the smell), and rapping the zombies on the nose with rolled up newspapers if any get dangerously close. Then, once Margot and Sybil are fairly sure they can survive, Margot starts getting creative. She decides, for example, that she can have the boyfriend she's always wanted by training Dirk, the boy-turned-zombie of her dreams, to behave as she wishes with pieces of meat when he's good and newspaper whacks when he isn't. (Margot's daydreams of teaching her zombie boyfriend to kiss her without eating her are particularly entertaining.)

But as Margot and Sybil's friendship starts to fracture (for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Margot keeps ditching Sybil to spend time with her zombie boyfriend), they come to realize that life with living dead classmates isn't actually all that enjoyable—and that there's a sinister individual out there trying to complete the zombie takeover of their school by turning them into zombies, too. They must find the culprit behind the zombie invasion, and maybe even turn their classmates back into humans.

Because I haven't come across many purely humorous young adult novels, I kept expecting Never Slow Dance With a Zombie to take a turn toward the dark or serious. Once I realized that wasn't going to happen, I was able to enjoy the story for what it is: a light, amusing read that satirizes some of the tropes of paranormal romance.

Even so, Van Lowe missed some opportunities to craft a more distinct story and to raise the stakes for the characters. The book is saturated with clichés about high school life. Margot is obsessed with popularity and boyfriends and with accomplishing everything on her cutesy list of high school goals, and the school's cliques and their leaders (especially Amanda Culpepper) are drawn in broad and stereotypical terms. The caricature-ish nature of the story's players does heighten the humor in some scenes. Margot's parents, for example, spend so much time watching TV that Dirk is convinced they're already zombies and makes no move to eat them. Other characters' parents remain similarly oblivious to the fact that their sullen teenagers are now zombies. But particularly in the first 50 pages, before the zombies' arrival brings a little more quirkiness into the story, I found the characters' blandness and lack of depth frustrating. Nor does it ever feel as though Margot and Sybil are in serious danger, even in the scenes where they are ostensibly (spoiler!) about to be eaten.

But for those readers willing to keep going through the book's uneven first quarter, the humor picks up as the story progresses, and the zombies add some oddball fun to what begins as standard fare.

Sara Polsky has written for The Forward, The Hartford Courant, The Writer, and other publications. Her fiction has appeared in Fictitious Force and Behind the Wainscot.

Sara Polsky is the author of the YA novel This Is How I Find Her. Her book reviews and poetry have appeared previously in Strange Horizons.
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