A year ago, while on vacation in the United States, Jay met a handsome young man and snuck away for a quick bit of fun. Instead of fun, he got a quick bite and the man raced away, leaving Jay bleeding and confused. A few days later, back home in England, Jay realized the truth. As if life as a teenager wasn’t hard enough, now not only was his social life dead, but so was he. Well, so to speak. He wasn’t dead, he was just … a zombie.
Between figuring out what he is and what the rules are, such as eating a lot of under-cooked meat or deli meat keeps him from wanting— er, needing — to chow down on his schoolmates, Jay has to deal with the usual stressors of life, such as falling in love with the handsome new transfer student, getting a boyfriend, getting outed, and killing a cat. Then eating the cat.
If it weren’t for Archer, his crush, his boyfriend, his first love, Jay doesn’t know what he’d do. Hopefully, he’ll never have to find out.
Jay isn’t a bad kid. He’s just focused on something more important than his parents fighting, his father’s loss of his job, or his mom having to sell a car; Jay is, after all, a zombie. He knows that if he doesn’t eat enough meat, his body and his mind start to decay. Jay’s left with pop-culture and guess work to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what’s happening to him. It’s not as if the guy who bit him left him with a handbook, after all. When Jay meets Archer, he of course wants to tell him the truth, but is Archer going to believe him? Can he? It’s all pretty unbelievable, after all, and Jay doesn’t want to chase Archer away by making him think he’s crazy.
Archer is a nice young man, friendly and with a little more confidence than Jay when it comes to dates. He figures out quickly that Jay’s stammering, confused comment about basketball tryouts — and his abysmal lack of ability when it comes to the game — is Jay’s way of asking him out, so he does Jay a kindness and does the asking for both of them. He’s attentive, kind, and patient. He knows Jay’s going through something, and his first concern is often Jay rather than himself.
While Jay starts the book as quippy and sarcastic, his voice soon fades away to a more matter-of-fact recitation of events. I don’t know if it’s his character or the zombification that turns him into an actual little monster, as he laughs at the idea of his father taking anti-depressants or hangs up on his mom when she’s stranded after having sold her car, all because she didn’t take his advice to download the bus schedule. Having a character with an unpleasant personality isn’t a bad choice, but he comes across as more of a psychopath, lacking any empathy for concern for other people, than a sarcastic or posturing teenager.
There are some interesting thoughts in this story, and I appreciated the more introspective look into zombification than the easy path of tropes, but the plot and the character study never quite went anywhere. Even when Jay is on his journey — both physical and mental — of self-discovery, it doesn’t really end up anywhere. There’s no solution, no grand epiphany, and no resolution. Jay is left back where he started, just hungrier. He loves Archer, but the love feels shallow, perhaps because Jay himself feels shallow and distant in this book, like I’m being kept at arm’s length.
The writing is decent and the pace is good, but I’m left ambivalent about the whole thing. There’s not really much of a story here to sink my — ahem — teeth into. Every character is seen through Jay’s eyes and he’s not interested in any of them but Archer, and those moments are actions more than words. While Archer, through his actions, seems to be a decent person, Jay, through both his thoughts and his actions, isn’t. The ending of the book suits the tone of the story, but I don’t think it will be to everyone’s taste as it’s more open-ended than most YA stories tend to be. My final judgement is if you’re not a fan of zombies, give it a pass. But, if you like zombies and want a new take on them, this book might hold your interest.
Note: This story involves several animal deaths (as well as some human ones) and pet lovers beware as Jay kills and eats an injured cat and someone’s dog while on the path through self-discovery. There is talk of domestic abuse as Jay’s neighbors are constantly fighting, and some body horror with a finger and an arm falling off and having to be reattached. The tone is light, but indifferent, as Jay approaches this whole thing — the book is written in journal form — with a callous indifference and teenage self-absorption.