Back in September, when I discovered that Night Shade Books was releasing a young adult zombie anthology, I wondered what that would look like (and I told myself to hope for the best). After checking out the author lineup, I knew I’d find stories equally interesting, weird and well-written in this volume. And I did. I just didn’t quite bargain for the crazy, gross and not-right that came along with. But, after all, it’s zombies. You’ll say I shouldn’t have been surprised.
When the zombie apocalypse comes, it's not just those crusty old folks who will struggle against the undead, it's the young people. What happens when you come of age during the zombie apocalypse? Z: Zombie Stories has the answer to that question. Z: Zombie Stories gathers together some of the hottest zombie fiction of the last two decades, from authors including Kelly Link, Jonathan Maberry, and Catherynne M. Valente. These stories focus on those who will inherit a world overrun with the living dead: a young man who takes up the family business of dealing with the undead, a girl struggling with her abusive father...who has become a zombie, a poet who digs up the wrong grave, and a Viking maiden imprisoned with the living dead...
All of the entries in this anthology (except for the final story) have been published previously in other volumes, and some of them were already familiar to me. Of course, that doesn’t diminish their charm. I’ll say a little something brief about each one, shall I? Great.
“Family Business” by Jonathan Maberry
“Family Business” appears to be the first several chapters of Maberry’s young adult zombie novel, verbatim. I reviewed Rot & Ruin here on the blog. This excerpt should draw you in and make you want to learn more about the Imura brothers and their quest to survive.
“The Wrong Grave” by Kelly Link
A disturbing and funny tale about a boy who digs up the wrong grave – and finds something entirely unexpected (and persistent). There’s a good dose of magic and side of uncanny in this tale. Fans should next look to Link’s Pretty Monsters.
“The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” by Catherynne M. Valente
If I’m honest with myself, this is the story I was most excited to read. Valente has a way with words, and it doesn’t desert her here. “Flaming Motorcycles” is about a girl living in the remains of Augusta, Maine, but it’s also a meditation on the nature of zombies, acceptance, and what could possibly be important after death. True and truly weird.
“The Barrow Maid” by Christine Morgan
I never thought I’d write this, but Viking zombies are the freakiest and best idea ever. “The Barrow Maid” combined epic storytelling in the style of Beowulf with the undead – a startling, unnerving, genius mixture of creepy and outstanding.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Scott Nicholson
Would you like a chilling, atmospheric story that will drift into your mind like mist and never let go? This story’s spiritual overtones somehow made the apocalypse seem more eerie and terrible than ever. Beautifully written, and the sort of thing that might inspire nightmares, in a The Knife of Never Letting Go sort of way.
“The Dead Kid” by Darrel Schweitzer
Not what I would call a teen-friendly story, this one veers into horror territory. It is unsettling and all-around freaky.
“Seven Brains, Ten Minutes” by Marie Atkins
If you like your zombie stories gory, this one’s for you. Somehow until now I’ve managed to read a lot of zombie lit without reaching a level of gross-out. Well, I’m there now. Scott’s ‘evolution’ certainly made me queasy. Not for weak stomachs.
“The Third Dead Body” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Hoffman does deeply disturbing very, very well. There’s no beating around the bush – this entry is HORROR, and it’s also full of revenge, twisted longing, and extreme violence. Adults only.
“The Skull-Faced Boy” by David Barr Kirtley
In this tale, it’s about die-and-live or die-and-kill, and the result is a battle not between the living and the dead, but between those with consciences and those without. It doesn’t end well, and in the end is a sickening portrait of the worst in humanity.
“The Human Race” by Scott Edelman
Terrorism, dark despair, and a zombie outbreak combine to create a perfect storm of hopelessness for one girl. “The Human Race” explores what people can withstand – and what will probably destroy us all.
“Deepwater Miracle” by Thomas Roche
To end the collection, a story with a bit of light-hearted survival. Okay, it’s not so light-hearted, but SURVIVAL. After the darkness in the middle of the anthology, this one brings you back out into the light. How? Two brothers stuck on a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico figure out how to go on while the world on land ends around them. Gripping reading.
In Z: Zombie Stories, editor J.M. Lassen brings together well-written stories of mayhem and apocalypse. However, the level of scary and disquieting varies from story to story, and it is not for everyone. While each tale may feature a teenager, the entries are not necessarily young adult. For those seeking a gentler initiation into the world of zombies, check out Justine Lavaworm and Holly Black’s Zombies vs. Unicorns instead.
Recommended for: mature teens and adults accustomed to horror, and those who can’t resist the unsettling power of a good zombie tale.