________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 18 . . . . January 16, 2015


Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie.

Jeff Norton.
London, UK: Faber & Faber (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2014.
243 pp., trade pbk., $9.99.
ISBN 978-0-571-30809-5.

Subject Heading:

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

**½ /4



I have to admit, and I'm not very proud of this, that my first instinct wasn't to warn everyone. As I watched the swarm of killer zombees fly toward the penned-in, unsuspecting crowd, I thought for a brief, unheroic moment: at least I won't be on my own.

If everyone in town went zom then maybe I couldn't have to hide who I really was. If zombies became the majority then maybe I wouldn't have to hide who I really was. If zombies became the majority, then I wouldn't have to hide my greying skin and decomposing flesh behind MAC and long sleeves. But death was still death, and as much as I didn't want to be the odd zom out, I really didn't want my parents (and if I'm, honest, even my sister) to die, come back and have to look like this. No, I didn't wish resurrection on anyone*.

*Except maybe Martin Luther King, JFK, and Jim Henson. It'd be great to have those guys back.

Adam Meltzer is your average kid except that he hates getting dirty, loves footnotes, and is a zombie. He wasn't sure how he came to be buried under heaps of dirt, but after digging his way out and finding himself in a graveyard, he's not feeling very positive about the situation, not to mention in desperate need of a shower. He's not prepared for what his shocked parents have to tell him - a terrible reaction to a bee sting sent him to an early grave. To his sister's chagrin (she's not about to move back to her smaller bedroom!), the sting also gave him the ability to rise from the grave. There's only one explanation - Adam has been zombified! He felt like a freak when he was alive; he can't bear to think what his life as a zombie is going to be like!

      Just when it didn't seem like things could get weirder, he sees his next door neighbor and classmate Ernesto for the first time since rising from the dead, and he's not the Nesto Adam remembers. Nesto's transforms into a chupacabra in front of Adam and another neighbor and classmate Carina, who turns out to be a witch. Adam, in all his discomfort in his decomposing skin, is feeling almost normal around his new freakish friends. When the trio figures out that a bee sting must have triggered Adam's death and return to the living, they will have to face a fate worse than death: the music of SMOOCH, a popular and terrible pop band, and their dislikable fans (including Adam's parents and sister). Facing public speaking fears, humiliation as he mutilates the national anthem, and confronting a swarm of zombie-creating bees (including the bee responsible for Adam's current zombified state) Adam, Ernesto, and Carina prove that being freaks isn't as bad as people think.

      Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie covers many of the issues youth find themselves confronting whether they like it or not: feeling like a freak who could never fit in, the difficult job of figuring out who you are, and facing your greatest fears.

      The use of footnotes, emphasizing exactly how neurotic Adam is, is a great way to get into the young zombie's head. I will admit it could be my eyes, but I found myself noticing footnotes and searching the page for the asterisks indicating where they fit into the story. If they were just a bit clearer, not hand-drawn and so tiny they could be easily mistaken for ink blots, there would be less disruption and better flow to the story.

      The story is delightfully silly and bizarre, but comical tone is abruptly interrupted twice with what comes across as a failed attempt at educating the reader about offensive language and the use of 'retard'. In the first instance, Adam attempts to explain when it is fine to use the word 'retard', clarifying it's ok as a verb, not ok as a noun, but that his family used the term to describe his learning-disabled cousin despite knowing it was 'mean'. In the second instance, Adam, Nesto, and Carina have just stormed the stage at the SMOOCH concert, much to the dismay of the audience which includes most of the town. Nesto interprets the audience's applause and cheering as approval, but Carina quickly sets him straight: "They're clapping for the special effects. Three retards flying in to sing the national anthem. Don't let that go to your head" (p. 195). After telling the reader the word is inappropriate when describing someone at the beginning of the book and then having one of Adam's friends use the word in an offensive manner near the end of the book sends a mixed message: the word is bad unless you're using it to describe your relatives like Adam's family does, or if you're talking about your friends and yourself, as Carina does. Without these two instances, I would have given the book **** /4. The short but distracting and easily misinterpreted discussion around the use of 'retarded' took away from the story and, without more discussion, just doesn't work.

Recommended with Reservations.

Crystal Sutherland is a MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate living in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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