When Mila’s best friend Riley shows up dead in a nearby creek and police label her death a suicide, Mila is beside herself. Though devastated and stricken with grief, she knows deep in her heart that Riley would never kill herself and repeatedly insists to her parents as well as school administrators that Riley was murdered. Moreover, Riley’s is the third death at her school in the past week, which smells like too much of a coincidence for Mila.
Mila and Riley were both Wiccan and up to this point, had done some minor spells together. But when a curious ancient grimoire that contains a resurrection spell appears on Mila’s doorstep, she can’t resist the temptation. Given that none of the authority figures in her life believe her theory about Riley’s death, she decides to take matters into her own hands and cast the spell. It’s the only way to find out what really happened to her friend.
The spell, however, not only brings back Riley but also snobby mean-girls June and Dayton, her two classmates who had supposedly hung themselves a week earlier in some sort of suicide pact. Unfortunately, none of the girls can recall the specifics of their death, but they are all certain that they would never commit suicide.
Now with only seven days until the spell wears off meaning that the three girls will return to their graves, Mila along with her three undead friends race against the clock to find out how murdered them before he can find his next victim.
WHAT I LIKED
I enjoyed having a Wiccan main character in the book which I found fascinating and refreshing. I thought the author did an excellent job in portraying Wicca and delineating the difference between Wicca and Witchcraft. One of the tenants of Wicca is the Law of Three in which everything a witch does — especially spell work — comes back to them threefold, for good or ill. So I found it especially clever that Mila, instead of bringing only her friend back to life, ended up restoring life to all three of her recently deceased classmates, a humorous nod to the Law of Three (though we do learn at the end of the book why June and Dayton came back to life in addition to Riley).
I loved our main character Mila — a plus-sized snarky Mexican witch who could care less what other people thought about her and who did whatever was necessary to find justice for her friend Riley and her two undead compatriots. Her confidence and determination were impressive as was her devotion to Riley and her two new undead friends. That being said, Undead Girl Gang was an exploration of not only grief and loss but also friendship.
And the fact the Mila is fat has nothing to do with the plot, and the story doesn’t dwell on this fact at all. So in this way, I found the representation in this book refreshing. There’s also a scene in the book where the characters are called out for implying that “normal” is white. Though this was a small scene, it was one that especially stood out for me. The exact quote is below:
“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 thought this book was wildly creative. There was one stipulation of the spell which I found clever and which made the three undead girls especially frightening should anyone encounter them. I loved the author’s original and entertaining take on the zombies in this story. Instead of giving us terrifying brain-eating zombies, we get three cranky and snarky undead teenagers who, much to Mila’s chagrin, are impossible to control and think nothing of walking down the street during broad daylight in the town where they were killed or even showing up to terrorize people at their own memorial.
That being said, it was also fun watching the girls interact with each other. It’s worth mentioning that Riley and Mila were not on friendly terms with June and Dayton while they were alive, so there were some major personality clashes going on in the story, which resulted in some great humor. The snarkiness, feistiness, sarcasm, back-handed insults and cattiness had me laughing out loud on several occasions. The interaction of these four girls was so much fun and warmed my heart, especially when unlikely friendships develop between them. It’s at this point the reader discovers that the book is not just about zombies and a serial killer, but it’s also about the complex relationships between teenage girls.
In addition to the outstanding humor, I found the magic system especially intriguing. I enjoyed reading about the different spells as well the materials and rituals necessary for the spells to work. It was in the magic system where the difference between Wicca and Witchcraft came into play. We learn that though Mila adhered to the Wiccan faith, the magic she was now using from the old grimoire was not Wiccan magic at all but rather a darker, more ancient magic, and as is the case with most magic systems, magic always comes with a price.
The mystery aspect of the story was well done, and the story took several exciting twists and turns until the killer is finally revealed. As the clocked ticked down, I found myself entirely invested in finding out who killed the girls and though I did suspect the murderer’s identity, I wasn’t quite sure, and I was still surprised when it all unfolded. The big reveal at the end was perfect, I felt, with the story being nicely tied up at the end.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There honestly wasn’t a whole lot that I disliked about this book. There were a couple of pacing issues with the book, I felt. The middle of the story dragged a bit for me, and the ending felt rushed.
I also wished the book would have gone into more detail about the Wiccan faith. It would have been interesting to learn more about how Riley and Mila got into Wicca and their past experiences with it. A little more in-depth explanation of the differences between Wicca and Witchcraft might also have been helpful.
The undead girls were also extremely stereotypical — the mean girls who rule the school trope. There were a couple of times when I felt their depiction was a tad over the top and initially, the girls felt more like caricatures than real people.
There was also one little thing that bugged me. Mila’s sister gives her a rubber hair band that she’s supposed to snap against her wrist whenever grief overcomes her, and she does so on several occasions. The idea of harming yourself or causing yourself pain to overcome grief did not sit well with me at all, and I found it rather disconcerting.
I’m also not sure if I’m entirely on board with the murderer’s reasoning for killing the girls. It seemed far-fetched and perhaps more than a bit unbelievable.
Zombies, witches, serial killers and a mystery to solve — what’s not to love? This was a fun, light-hearted yet serious look at friendship, redemption, grief and moving on. It was a fast read with a whole lot going on that kept me turning the pages. Though there were a murder and mystery elements to the story, it was about so much more than that. We have here a candid social commentary on high school hierarchies, on keeping up appearances, on belonging, and on friendship, with a particular focus on relationships. This is one of those books that keeps you thinking long after the last page is turned. This was a story with depth to it.
Though Undead Girl Gang deals with some serious topics, it does so in a humous over-the-top way. This may have been one of the funniest books I’ve read so far this year. The four girls ended up being wholly lovable and relatable, and I loved how they all came together at the end. It was also satisfying to see the depth each character had by the end of the book and the growth that took place for each of them.
This was a clever, charming and entertaining read with a beautiful ending and an engaging plot. The author really brought her characters to life in this story. So overall, I ended up loving this book, and I give it 5 stars.
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