Pots, Kettles and Amebiasis

Donna of the Dead - Alison Kemper
The zombies swarm, forming a circle around Deke.
“We gotta help him!” Quentin yells. More books sail out of the back doors of the vehicle.
“Big ones,” someone says. “Grab the big ones!”
“Throw Moby Dick, I hated that one.”
“Where’s Twilight?”
“No,” Tara squeal. “Don’t throw Twilight!”

Is ridiculing Twilight still a thing? Isn’t that so, I dunno, 2010? And seeing as a huge chunk of this story revolved around an annoying, speshul snowflake heroine torn between her childhood friend and her high school crush…

Except this one is set in the almost-zombocalypse, and our heroine, silver-eyed Donna Price, is special because she hears voices in her head warning her off from eminent danger. I say it’s the almost-zombocalypse because Donna of the Dead is set a few days after the virus broke so there’s still a government, the internet, electricity… basically everything except there are the undead walking around. Donna and her best friend, Deke were onboard a cruise ship when an infected passenger manages to spread the virus with everyone on board. They manage to escape but in the process, got separated from her sea captain father and Deke’s grandmother (who are by the way, dating). They arrange to rendezvous once Donna’s father finds a better stocked, uninfested ship. Meanwhile on land, Donna and Deke run into their high school where a bunch of their schoolmates have barricaded themselves. One of whom is Liam, Donna’s perpetually fragrant long-time crush. 

To be fair, I found some aspects of Donna extremely relatable. She’s a bit of a grammar Nazi, she cracks inappropriate jokes to cut the tension, she’s a big wuss who chooses self-preservation over heroism and above all, she’s fully cognizant that in the context of the almost-zombocalypse, she’s the most useless and worthless person left on the planet.

She’s basically me. Or how I imagine I’d behave within the setting of a George Romero film. And that’s where my problem lay:

I don’t want to read about me. 

Her reluctance to take action, her selfishness, her insecurities are very age-appropriate at fifteen (did I just admit I act like a 15-year old?) but that age was not the subject of a Taylor Swift song without good reason. And I appreciate Donna’s moments of realization and understanding, some glimpses of her yet-to-be discovered maturity and impending evolution… it’s just sometimes I’m not sure if I’m a fan of discovering it with her.

Last night, after my nutritious dinner of barbecue-flavored potato chips, I’d had enough foresight to fish the chip bag out of the trash and fill it with liquid soap from the bathroom dispenser. I have my qualms about taking a bath in front of Liam, but my deep-seated need for cleanliness outweighs my fear of scrubbing my unshaven armpits while he watches.

I see the potential in her but if there was a fast forward button, I’d probably have raped it to get the parts like that quote where I can imagine liking Donna. I did see and like the eventual growth in her character, I just didn’t like Donna’s take-off point and I didn’t like how long it took for her to get there.

So an annoying, whiny heroine with some try-hard punchlines (that awkward moment when I know she’s trying to be funny, but I’m not laughing but everyone in the book is?) in the middle of a love triangle in the middle of a bunch of high school sophomores trying to survive a zombie attack? How is that supposed to make me NOT want to punch something?

I did find her and Deke’s relationship quite charming but that was mostly because of Deke. I liked how he calls her out on her shit (ie. mooning over Liam, her self-centred wimpyness, being shallow etc.) and that Donna recognizes her faults though I’m not quite sure what Deke is getting out of that friendship. 

There’s some variety in the zombie lore which I liked but some of the old details were just fuzzy or completely neglected do these zombies have emotions? what’s with the half-dead mind-control Bokur-voodoo business? etc. because the genre’s starting to get stale. Though probably not enough to openly recommend this to hardcore zombie-fiction fans. I was quite impressed how unexpected the way certain mysteries were explained in the end, specifically Donna’s “voices”. 

But I can’t deny my disappointment when the possibility of a Zombie Titanic was bypassed (not enough of Deke’s taser-wielding grandmother) for high school politics, shenanigans and survival method fails. Which is quite in-character, I guess, for a group of high school sophomores. I mean finding their sole source of water is teeming with disease, who thinks of bringing it back to their fortress where there’s a fucking, operational, microwave oven available? 


Who thinks of swimming in their sole source of potable water? 


And who contracted amebiasis after? 

As this was told entirely from Donna’s POV, there were some inconsistencies with the narrative, especially towards the end where Donna describes what’s going on in the high school fortress defense while she plays as bait and had a horde of zombies chasing her AWAY from the school. HOW? but it didn’t really niggle at me as much as Donna herself and her attempts to appeal to me with her self-awareness and growth.

I’m sorry but a self-aware jerk, is still a jerk.

ARC provided by Entangled Publishing thru Netgalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Quotes may not appear in the final edition.