Tuesday 20 September 2011

Review: Undead by Kirsty McKay

It was just another school trip... When their ski-coach pulls up at a cafe, and everyone else gets off, new girl Bobby and rebel Smitty stay behind. They hardly know each other but that changes when through the falling snow, the see the others coming back. Something has happened to them. Something bad...Soon only a pair of double doors stand between those on the bus and their ex-friends the Undead outside. Time to get a life.

Back in May Steve Feasey, author of the brilliant Changeling series, wrote a great post about the appeal of zombies for The Book Zone, starting with the question as to why they are so popular when as monsters they are so unappealing on the face of things. Whatever the reasons, zombies are incredibly popular with boys, and my experience at school suggests that they rank far above vampires as the boys' monsters of choice (perhaps its a hygiene thing with boys preferring the dirty, unwashed, grunge image). Over the past handful of years zombies have enjoyed something of a revival (no pun intended) in kids literature, with the likes of Charlie Higson and Jonathan Maberry leading the way, but now Kirsty McKay wants some of the action as well and her Undead is certainly a worthy addition to the ranks.

If you are a seasoned reader of zombie stories then your first thoughts of Undead will most likely be similar to mine: it doesn't really bring anything new to the party, and is something of an A to Z of zombie film cliches. However, as an introduction for new readers to the genre who are 11+ there is probably little better than this book. Weighing in at less than 300 pages it isn't as hefty a tome as Charlie Higson's The Enemy, and whilst it is just as gory in places it also comes with a liberal dosing of humour throughout. In fact, it is closer in tone to Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead, and its characters are very much in line with Grange Hill or some of those brat pack movies of the 80s such as Some Kind of Wonderful and The Breakfast Club

I have read some comments about Undead that criticise the book for its characters being stereotypes. Yes, the teen characters read like a list of must-include-in-any-school-drama but for me this made the story work all the better. Admittedly this means that there were few surprises and the actions of the characters were quite often predictable but this just added to the comedy factor for me and I couldn't help but read the book in a single sitting I was enjoying it so much. The flow of the story was another element that contributed to this 'can't put it down' feeling - Kirsty McKay has this completely nailed, with her relatively short chapters and fast-paced prose this really is a sit-up-all-night-to-finish book for horror loving kids that want to dip their toes in the zombie-lit pool for the very first time.

Undead was published on 1st September and my thanks go to the good people at Chickenhouse for sending me a copy to review.


  1. Interesting point about zombies having boy appeal, particularly for younger readers. I wonder if it's because zombies aren't fetishised in the same way as vampires, so zombie stories need less of a love angle to be effective.

    In terms of the "bringing nothing new" comment, I've been finding the same thing with much of the dystopian lit out there. For my jaded ol' self, it's all been done before, but for fresh eyes they'll no doubt appeal. :)

  2. This looks great - I've been wanting to read it for a while. Great review!