Zombies vs. Unicorns was a Christmas gift to my daughter this year. For those that don’t know, Anna is a huge fan of unicorns, like many girls her age are. She’s first and foremost a horse fan, and since unicorns really are nothing more than a very fancy horse, why shouldn’t she like them? Naturally, the zombie angle drew me in more than a little bit. Zombies vs. unicorns? How could we miss?
I’ll tell you how we could miss – if one single unicorn was felled by a zombie. Anna takes her horses VERY seriously. This is the kid that will never watch The Never-Ending Story again because the horse died in it. Never mind that the horse came back at the end – THE HORSE DIED. And then there was Legend, in which a unicorn dies because its horn was removed. Again, the unicorn was fine by the end of the movie, but Anna couldn’t quite forgive them for killing the unicorn in the first place. Clearly, I was going to have to read this to make sure that something similar wouldn’t happen.
As it turns out, Zombies vs. Unicorns is not quite what it promises in its title. Of course, I was expecting battles featuring zombies and unicorns. In reality, the premise is actually much more garden variety. Zombies vs. Unicorns is a series of 10 short stories written by some well known (and not so well known) names in young-adult literature. The whole thing was cooked up by two other YA authors, Holly Black and Justine Larbalasteir. Apparently, somewhere on the internet, these two have debated zombies vs. unicorns and which is better and this is what all this debate has produced. Five stories each for Team Zombie and Team Unicorn. Sadly for me, but fortunately for Anna, there isn’t really a single story that features both a zombie AND a unicorn.
The quality of the stories varies wildly, as you might expect from an anthology. Some of them were really hard to get into, others were a breeze. I felt like some of the stories took their subject matter just a little too seriously and the fun of telling a story about zombies or unicorns got lost in the shuffle. There were, however, some real standouts.
My favorite unicorn story was, by far, Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants.” Cabot is the author of the enormously successful Princess Diaries books, which Heidi and Anna have read a number of and also led to the “mom, what’s a diaphragm?” conversation. Cabot captures the terminally embarrassed and frustrated teenage girl voice so perfectly that you really buy into the story. The unicorn in this story is also a hoot, a great sendup of the annoying cliche of unicorns riding on rainbows and providing the world with an endless supply of glitter. Seriously, this unicorn literally farts rainbows. I should have known that Cabot would pull this one off with great finesse.
Conversely, my favorite zombie story was much more sedate. It was Carrie Ryan’s “Bougainvillea” in which a young woman recalls being brought to an island off the coast of Mexico by her father at the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. Safe from harm for the most part, he installs himself as the governor of the island. The story is told in a series of flashbacks coordinated with present day accounts in which she slowly discovers not all is as it seems. I found the story gripping and it was one of the few zombie stories that had actual zombie mayhem. The others toned down the zombie violence, ostensibly because the target audience of this book is probably teens.
An interesting side note: At least three of the 10 stories had gay characters and two of these had budding same-sex romances. I found this encouraging and thought about how this will speak to LGBT teens. I can tell you the number of books that had examples like that for any LGBT kids in my school – zero.
There was also one unicorn story that dealt in a bit of bestiality. Fortunately, it was already the worst story in the collection before it even got to that part.
I think that Zombies vs. Unicorns was definitely a fun book, even though we might have to wait a few years for Anna to really appreciate it. Although I am totally going to read “Princess Prettypants” to her sometime really soon.