Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Undead, by Kirsty McKay

Bobby has just been dragged from the USA to life back in England.  She's not even started school properly yet and already she'd had to go on a skiing trip to Scotland to 'bond' with her classmates, something that she was less than thrilled about from the start.  Being a seasoned skier isn't going to make her popular.  She's just adjusting to life back in England, silently furious with her mum for dragging her back here, trying to remember to not to call crisps chips and having a Mobile instead of a Cell Phone.  Scotland reflects her mood- cold, miserable and dark.

When all her classmates get off the coach to visit a roadside cafe, Bobby, the bus driver and the class rebel all stay on the bus.  Bobby stays because she has no friends and because everyone thinks she's a freak, plus she's come prepared with a PB&J sandwich.  Smitty the rebel isn't allowed off because the teacher wants to keep him where he knows where he is, no more cigarettes and vodka for Smitty.

When Bobby and Smitty hear banging against the windows of the bus, they think it's their classmates messing around.  When the pampered, popular, perfectly pretty Alice comes tearing onto the bus full of screams, tears and snot, Bobby and Smitty start to realise that something has gone wrong back at the cafe.  According to Alice, everyone is dead and their teacher tried to bite her.  Soon, the snow is stained with red, mobile reception is mysteriously depleted and the recently deceased are suddenly more animated than they were in life...

Along with her mismatched band of survivors, not exactly people she would have hand picked in the circumstances, Bobby has to work out exactly what has happened.  Is this happening everywhere?  Some of the undead were obviously bitten, but what turned the first lot?  How come Alice didn't die? Why isn't there a single landline or PC in this part of Scotland?  Doesn't it all fell sort of, deliberate? 

A good story that I think will appeal to boys and girls- zombies are a lot of fun and I think they're only going to get more popular, especially now the global Vampire infatuation seems to be on the wane.  Having a female protagonist in a survival horror scenario is a big win for me and Bobby is a good narrator- funny, honest and not afraid to let her thoughts out.  The action is plentiful, gratuitous gore (personally something that I have no problems with) is kept to a minimum, so it's very age appropriate and language is minimal.  It's about as clean as zombies are going to get. 

My one complaint is the over colloquialised "teen language".  I can see that McKay is going for a Kids in an Adult world sort of thing, but her choice of words I think gets a little irritating.  Using 'circs' for circumstances and 'diff' for difference and random bits of sarcastic French ('Ohmygod...Tres embarrassing', for example).  Once or twice would've been enough, but it's pretty persistent.  It just didn't sound like proper teen-speak so might have been better if it was toned down a bit.  Also, I haven't heard anyone, teen or not, use the word "freakazoid" in about 10 years.

Overall a decent survival horror story that follows the usual formula- a bunch of woefully mismatched individuals are thrown into a situation that forces them to cooperate and work as a team, or become dribbling automatons.  Stock characters, maybe, but rounded out with humour and flourishing group-role-responsibilities.  Quick paced, funny and probably universally popular.  It ends on a cliffhanger too, so I'll have to find a copy of the sequel...

Everyone loves a good zombie story, and don't pretend you haven't got a contingency plan prepared just in case....

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