Zombies are taking over the world. Seriously, they're everywhere. It seems hardly a week goes by when I don't hear about some new zombie book for teens or kids. So what's up with that? With their slow, clumsy gait and below average intelligence, they hardly make for the most terrifying monsters. An individual zombie all by its lonesome isn't so fear-inducing but the thing about zombies is that they're almost never all by their lonesome. They band together into masses of shuffling inevitability; they're always coming closer and there's always another zombie to replace the one you've just decapitated. Zombies are, quite literally, death personified--dark, cold, and inescapable. Whoa. Described thus, zombies become absolutely the most fracking terrifying monster in existence (other than giant spiders and Cthulu, of course).
(Because Cthulu is just wicked creepy. Seriously. Thanks for the nightmares, H. P. Lovecraft.)
So where did it all start? Wikipedia is a little unclear about the true origin of the zombie but it seems to stem from the voodoo traditions of West Africa and Haiti (or vodun or vodou, respectively). They didn't get much attention in popular culture, though, until the middle of this century with the horror classic "Night of the Living Dead" (1968). And let's not forget "Thriller," of course--the millions of teens attempting to imitate Michael Jackson's swivel-hipped zombie must not be lost. Since then, zombies have gotten a pretty constant stream of B-horror appearances and a few big hits.
But that meant maybe a few films a year, most of them ignored by the masses. The last half-decade has produced dozens and dozens zombie books, games, and movies and they're books, games, and movies that people are paying attention to. The redheaded stepchild of the horror genre has been shoved into the spotlight. Really, it's difficult to say what tipped the scale. Perhaps it was the sudden popularity of "Plants vs. Zombies," the hugely popular and totally addictive game. Or even before that with Simon Pegg's "Shaun of the Dead," which boasts a cult following in nerd culture (take that, "Zombieland").
I could give you lists of the dark and disturbing books for YA and many of them have been very worthwhile. For example, Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth has been very well received. (I am currently reading it so I will reserve judgement until a later date. Review to come.) Also popular right now, Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin, which tells the delightfully violent and bloody story of a boy coming of age just after the zombie apocalypse.
Personally, though, I like my zombies with a healthy dose of irony. Two of the best (read: my favorite) examples of these are Zombies vs. Unicorns, an anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, and Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio
ZvU contains stories from YA powerhouses like Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfield (all of Team Zombie), who write stories of what a world with zombies might look like. Some of the stories are serious, some are funny, some are a little creepy--but in a very good way. Of course, the Unicorns are present, too. The book alternates between stories of zombies and stories of unicorns but the unicorn stories aren't all sweetness and light. Some of them are downright, disturbing, too.
I also picked up Zombie in Love recently. It's a children's book about a zombie named Mortimer searching for love who just can't seem to catch a break. He tries to give girls jewelry (with body parts of the original owners still attached) and they run away screaming. He takes ballroom dancing lessons (with a skeleton for a dance partner) but no one seems impressed. Will he ever find his zombie love? This was an adorable story for kids that had me laughing out loud. And when Mortimer finally does find the walking lady corpse to make his dreams come true, it's "love at first bite." Seriously, that's how the book ends. How can you not love that? Plus, you know, it shows kids that there's someone for everyone and that even flesh-eating creatures that go bump in the night deserve love. But mostly, zombies are just cool.
This post would not be complete without a mention of a new wildly disturbing trend, as well: zombie romances. Apparently it wasn't weird enough to fall in love with dead guys who had wicked pointy teeth and thirsted for your blood. Now we've got to fling ourselves at dead guys who want to gnaw our limbs off? Gack.
And one last word of warning: always, always, check the expiration date on your milk. Because you never know what might just set off the zombie apocalypse.