book review: undead girl gang

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Razorbill, 272 pp.
Published May 8, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free physical ARC of this book from Penguin Random House for review purposes. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There's not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley's favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone's explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer...before the killer strikes again.

This might be a standalone novel, but readers will likely clamor for more books with the sassy Mila Flores when they're through with Undead Girl Gang. Her compulsively likable and distinct voice brings a hilarious outlook to downright dark material. An outsider whose brown skin and weight make her a target for bullying, Mila's world centers on her friendship with the daughter of the local morticians, Riley. Her spunky incredulity over Riley's suspicious death summons all the fierce loyalty of childhood friendships and the fervent belief we've all funneled into one story or another. Except in Mila's case, the story comes true.

Successfully raising her friend from the dead (never mind the other two girls unintentionally along for the ride) inspires a new brand of confidence in Mila. Bravado only displayed in the safety of friendship comes out more frequently with figures of authority or intimidation: her parents, the ineffective school guidance counselor, the resident creep, and the nosy school newspaper reporter. Even as Mila wonders what sort of person she can be without Riley, she grows into the strong and capable young woman that always lingered beneath a timid surface.

Fans of zombies and other horrors should find their tastes sated in this teenage drama quite well. Fleshy mushrooms sprout from a suspect's back and, while the three reanimated girls look normal when standing near Mila, after a certain distance they appear as they otherwise would in death: broken necks, rotting flesh, white eyes. Most of this plays for humor, though. When a stereotypical self-absorbed teenage girl discovers a problem with her appearance that cosmetics can't repair, the outrage is swift and hilarious.

Just because they're corpses doesn't exempt June, Dayton, and Riley from postmortem development. The ramifications of being brought back for only a week, with foggy memories of their last days, are not wholly positive. Unable to visit family and friends—for how could anyone explain their reappearance?—the girls lurk in an abandoned house on the edge of town. Seven days provides plenty of time for reflection; even as the trio helps Mila track down a killer, they must come to terms with both a first and second death.

While the incisive humor gives the book a delightfully snappy pace, it does incorporate a lot of current trends and fandoms. This works perfectly for a contemporary novel although I always worry how it will age in the coming years. The central mystery as well might not captivate in the same way a detective novel does: I guessed the killer's identity early on. But even though it's a murder mystery that dominates the promotional blurb, Undead Girl Gang thrives on the shifting planes of friendship and antagonism between its teenage protagonists. Beyond the witty, Scooby Doo-esque hunt for justice lies an honest take on loyalty, bullying, and faith. Anderson does well to wrap up such heavy topics in a story as delightfully funny as Undead Girl Gang, which proves to be the perfect summer treat.


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