“The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals.”
Being a teenage witch in a small town isn’t easy. But at least life was easier with best friend and fellow amateur witch, Riley, by her side. When two girls from their High School die in an apparent joint suicide, followed by Riley, Mila knows something more than a string of suicides is going on.
Determined to get answers to questions no one else is asking, Mila does the unthinkable. Turning to an ancient grimoire that was delivered mysteriously to their hideout, Mila trudges to the graveyard in the middle of the night and raises the dead.
But magic is tricky. Instead of raising only Riley, June and Dayton are brought back with her. And none of them remember the details before their deaths. With only seven days before they return to their graves, Mila has to figure out the truth behind their deaths before the murdered strikes again.
“Getting murdered has really shifted everyone’s threshold of what counts as shitty.”
I loved every moment of this book! We get the narration entirely from Mila’s perspective, and her dark humor and sarcastic tongue gives me life. This isn’t a cute teenage witch we’re dealing with. Mila is an unpopular outcast and only cares about finding out the truth about Riley. No matter the cost.
Adding June and Dayton in the mix was a really fun twist. I like how it added a new dimension to Mila’s investigation, since she never even thought twice about their deaths. It gave the themes normal to a YA novel, friendship, popularity, fitting in, all added depth. There’s something really satisfying in how by forcing these girls into a situation they would never be in, they are able to talk about these various social nuances in a way that feels light and natural. The growth all the girls go through is very satisfying to read.
While this book has biting humor, it’s also heavy and unflinching as it tackles the themes of death, grief, and loss. There’s something very unique in being able to not just focus on Mila’s grief. By adding the three dead girls, and forcing them to also have to face and deal with their own deaths, Anderson is able to explore these ideas and subjects in a really thorough and complex way. By balancing it with humor, she is able to deftly bring the topics to the front of the conversation, without having them feel cumbersome or overly heavy.
“Everyone grieves differently — see: me screaming into my pillows for a week — and I imagine it’s a lot worse when you realize that you’re the one who’s dead.”
As far as the murder mystery piece of the book, I did not see any of the twists and answers that flew my way. Seriously, I never even considered the person actually responsible. The clues were so subtle and well written, which then made the reveal all the more intense and shocking.
And, if all that wasn’t excellent enough, there is some serious diversity happening in this book that simply makes it feel even more realistic, zombies aside. Mila is a Latina girl, but she’s also plus sized. And, refreshingly, Mila is comfortable with who she is, and most of her observations are on how other’s respond to her. This is necessary for so many reasons, body positivity among them. But the cultural acceptance, or the lack thereof, is also really important to acknowledge and discuss.
“And, for fuck’s sake, stop using ‘normal’ as code for ‘white’,” I snap. “Your life isn’t the ruler that the rest of the world gets measured against.”
I think that there are many girls who will see themselves in Mila, whether in whole or in parts. This is what makes diversity in YA, and all books so important. Undead Girl Gang is a funny book about zombies wrapped in a murder mystery. But the fun this book has, doesn’t at all diminish from the important themes Anderson raises and explores.
It’s important that kids of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, genders, and cultures are able to pick up books that they can find themselves in. It helps build empathy for their peers, and also allows for teens to really begin to identify with who they are and how they fit in the world. Books don’t need to be serious to matter. And Anderson shows us that.
I’m a huge fan of Anderson’s style and writing, and will be anxiously awaiting future novels from her!
Thank you to First To Read and Razorbill for the review copy!