by John Kloepfer
Illustrated by Steve Wolfhard
205 pages, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Review by Melissa Conway
As Porky Pig would say, “Oh, d-d-d-dear-dear.”
First off, as a disclaimer of sorts, I should never have picked up this book. I did so because of the blurb on the back cover, which reads:
Just ahead of them, the block teemed with hundreds of zombies. A teenage zombie wearing a BurgerDog polo shirt and server’s cap turned to face them.
His head tilted to the right where the side of his neck was missing a large hunk. The drive-through headset and microphone were still clamped to his head. Zack did not want fries with that.
It made me chuckle, I took absent note of the cartoony cover art, which showed a bunch of zombies closing in on three fleeing pre-teens and thought, “What the heck?”
Within maybe three pages I was reminded once again why I shouldn’t buy books on the fly. I’m about as far from the author’s target audience as a (non-Village People) construction worker is from a Harlequin romance. In this case, my curiosity definitely turned morbid.
I never got sucked into the whole vampire/werewolf/zombie craze. No Twimom, me. I do have some experience in the kinds of things a pre-teen boy might like to read, though, as well as the kinds of cartoons he might find engaging.
For instance, take the doodles my older brother used to draw in the borders of his schoolwork. I recall a particularly unfortunate rendering of someone (that he must have HATED) with a gaping, circular hole through the torso, caused by a doodle-cannon firing a doodle-cannonball. Drops of blood and spattered guts showed the continuing forward momentum of the cannonball as it headed for the edge of the page. I thought my bro’s drawing style was gross and his sense of humor nearly incomprehensible, a boy vs. girl thing that has persisted through all recorded history.
While my now-grown daughter would be busy playing mermaid at the pool, struggling to swim with her ankles crossed like an imaginary tail, my son spends more time fishing dead bugs out of the gutter—so he can examine and dissect them—than he does swimming. SHE would have turned her nose up at The Zombie Chasers, while my son wants to read it over my shoulder. I won’t let him—he’s too young. And as a girl who also happens to be his mom, I’ll probably still be uncomfortable with him reading it when he reaches target-audience-age because of the casual violence that abounds in the narrative of this book. Some examples: “Zack and Madison watched through the shattered glass as the Zimmerman raised the dead bunny to his open mouth and bit into its middle, spouting blood up into his wretched face” and “Greg and his two buddies had welcomed Rice back to school by flipping him upside down over the toilet bowl and dipping him head-first into a triple chocolate fudge swirly.”
Except it all fits in ‘nicely’ with the plot: Zack, a ninety-two-pound weakling, and his sister’s best friend, self-centered-slash-air-headed Madison, fight off the zombies that have infested their neighborhood. Zack’s dweebie friend has the scoop on how to kill them—cut off their heads—but as often as Zack has not-so-idly considered it, does he really want to send his own sister’s noggin’ flying? The characters spend the bulk of the book avoiding zombies whenever possible, but often having to take them on in a myriad of revolting ways. Illustrator Steve Wolfhard has ‘decorated’ the pages with vile fleshy, droopy, goopy line drawings in case the author’s disgusting description isn’t enough. The Zombie Chasers is action-packed, moving along at a rat-a-tat pace, and is full of (appropriately juvenile) humor, but the zombies have a tough time keeping tongue in cheek.
I’m noticing a new trend in YA publishing—ending a book with zero resolution. (Or has this been going on for awhile now?) All I know is: this book, along with several of the last few YA books I’ve read, have done that very thing. As if it’s not enough to assume a reader will come back to the series because they’ve fallen in love with your characters—now you FORCE them to buy the next book if they want to know how the first one ended! So, anyhoo, I couldn’t write a spoiler to the ending even if I wanted to.
Next up for me: heavily researching the next book I buy! As for The Zombie Chasers, I think my big bro (who grew up to be a respectable member of society) would have LOVED it.