Down the Zombie Hole: Book Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
“She won’t rest until she’s sent every walking corpse back to its grave. Forever.”
Alice Bell thinks her father is crazy and embarrassing, but it turns out he may be right after all. Alice can’t go out at night. Ever. Her father claims there are monsters out there that will eat them. But one night Alice convinces her family to let her beloved sister, Emma, go out for her dance recital and her life changes forever. The monsters are real. And now Alice’s family is dead.
Alice goes to live with her grandparents and watches out the window every night to try and catch a glimpse of this new world. But it’s not just monsters that come in to her new life, but a best friend named Kat and a group of monster hunters – they call themselves Slayers – that includes the mysterious and yet seemingly delicious boy named Cole.
You should know, I have a love, hate, LOVE relationship with this book. And Cole was initially part of my hate period. When we first meet Cole, we are subjected to all my least favorite tropes of paranormal including “instalove” and can I just say, Cole is initially 1,000 times worse than Edward Cullen. I didn’t think that was possible, but Cole is broody, menacing, and tries to be oh so controlling. My initial reaction was this: Alice, do not for one moment think about being attracted to that guy. As we learn more about Cole there is a softening of his character, but I really wish we could have avoided the message that it’s okay to be attracted to the scary controlling guy because really, you’ll win him over – because in real life, sometimes the scary controlling guy will use his fists and words to really hurt you. Thankfully, Alice (who insists on being called Ali) has a strong will and stands up to the people in her life and is in many ways a strong lead heroine (after an initial but understandable period of grief and adjustment). So although this initially really bothered me, Ali really does come into her own and stand up for herself.
The other problem with this part of the story is that after that initial fantastic opening, the pacing slows down a lot. But then we get to page 160 and Alice literally slips through the rabbit hole and I could not stop reading. I was literally trying to figure out if I could read the book and drive home from work (don’t worry, I didn’t actually try). There is a ton of action, layers of suspense, and some pretty unique twists on the zombie genre. I don’t want to spoil the big reveals for you, but this is definitely not your typical zombie novel. Trust me, it is very very very interesting. I can’t say more. And don’t read spoilers. You’ll hate yourself in the morning.
As part of The Sunnydale Project, I have been talking about books that would be good readalikes for Buffy fans and Alice in Zombieland definitely fits the bill. Alice will definitely remind fans of Buffy; she is sucked into this bizarro world but takes the bull by the horns eventually and starts fighting the good fight. She also has that cool, quippy way of speaking in teenage snark. As you read through Zombieland you will find things that remind you of the Scooby Gang (I love the main friendship in this story), the Initiative (why are there always bad people who want to do bad things with already bad things? There are hazmat suits involved) . . . This book goes right onto my Top 10 list of Buffy Readalikes.
Alice in Zombieland makes it very clear that we are dealing here with a battle between good and evil, and it pulls no punches. There are, in fact, some really good references to faith and the spiritual life embedded in our story that give it depth and life without being overly preachy. Those who are familiar with many elements of world faiths will recognize the nod to the spiritual life in ideas such as the notion that if you believe something enough (i.e. have the faith of a mustard seed), you can make it happen. There is, in fact, a very interesting discussion of faith in the second half. And fans of Joss Whedon and Buffy will not be surprised, one of my favorite faith affirming moments ever happened in the Angel episode “Epiphany”. Deep and meaningful discussions of faith can come in the most surprising packages.
Other things you need to know:
Alice’s grandparents are such fun characters and you will love their attempts to speak in teen slang and the way that they drill Alice’s “boyfriends”. (“Complete this sentence, No means . . .”
Alice’s BFF Kat is a fun character that lends a lot of heart to this book. Everyone reading will want a BFF like Kat. Also, both Alice and Kat are good representations of strong female characters that are still human and flawed.
Like Buffy, there is a lot of accurate representation of the high school life here. Alice and co. may be beating back zombies at night, but that sometimes is nothing compared to the brutality of the rumor mill.
There is frank discussion of sex here. But it is healthy discussion and even mentions using protection and how it changes a relationship. I actually appreciated the things they had to say here and how they were presented.
There is violence and gore here, obviously.
Alice in Zombieland is not a perfect book, but I think in the end most readers will come away loving it. There are plenty of unique twists and elements that set Alice in Zombieland apart and will engage readers. I think there are some pacing issues, the first half drags and the second half the action just flies by and leaves you wanting more. One final note: this is not a literal re-imagining of the Alice in Wonderland story; it is clearly influenced by and makes some subtle references to Carol’s story, but this is no Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I love how the white rabbit and his clock are incorporated into the story.
In the end I give Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter 3.5 out of 5 stars and I do recommend it. Flawed but definitely a compelling read and an interesting world with plenty of swoon and action for most readers. I will be anxiously awaiting the sequel Through the Zombie Glass (set for release in October 2013).
This book goes straight to my Top 10 list of reads for Buffy fans. Remember Buffy fans, even season one of Buffy was a little bit sketchy.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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