Friday, September 30, 2011

Undead Romeos: The Rise of Zombie Fiction

When my middle school library opened three years ago, I had only two titles with "zombie" as a subject: The Death Collector (Richards), and The Boy Who Couldn't Die (Sleator). I must not have had too many students asking for zombie books that first year; I only added six new zombie fiction titles in 2009. By contrast, I had 80 different vampire titles in that same year.


The following school year brought changes. Students starting requesting books like Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Waters's Generation Dead, and St. Crow's Strange Angels. I purchased these and a few other zombie books, all of which experienced a steady stream of checkouts and hold requests. By the beginning of 2011, I was actively searching the web, Goodreads, and Titlewave for middle-grade and YA zombie fiction. It seemed I just could not find enough zombie books to satiate my young readers. As of today, my middle school
library holds 18 zombie fiction titles, 13 of which are currently checked out. We also have eight more zombie fiction titles on-order. None of these numbers include any of our graphic novels or nonfiction titles.

Curious about whether zombie books are really a growing trend, or if it is just something my students are suddenly interested in, I did some searches using Titlewave, an online collection development tool for school and public librarians. I searched Titlewave for "zombies" and limited it to 5-8 and YA fiction titles, then sorted them by year of publication. This is what I found:

Clearly, while the number of YA zombie fiction books has increased dramatically over the last several years, there is still plenty of room for growth. Young adult fiction writers looking to break into the publishing industry should consider the potential of zombie teens as characters.


While we have a some boys who regularly read from my Paranormal section, the girls are my main paranormal romance readers. The great thing about zombie books is that, while they may be romantic in some books, they are also downright gross. Their decaying skin smells of rot. They dine on fresh brains. They can be lethal to your average citizen on an evening stroll through the cemetery. Yet despite their pallid skin and brain-breath, it appears that being a zombie does not make it any easier for teens who struggle to fit in at
school, experience difficulty in relationships, get into trouble with their parents, and rebel against their limited personal freedoms. Quite simply, modern teens can relate.


For many boys, the vampire craze ended when vampires got sparkly. Many of them enjoyed The Twilight Saga, but their love for vampires did not transfer to other vampire romances in the same way it did for girls. The fact is, many boys prefer bloodthirsty killers to chiseled, honey-voiced vampire vegetarians. Zombie fiction has its own ability to attract young male readers. Disgustingly beautiful book covers like Maberry's Rot and Ruin and Bick's Ashes help make middle school boys proud to carry zombie books around and show them off to their friends.
In middle school, image is everything. For that eighth grade boy worried about looking like a library nerd, carrying around a book just got immensely "cooler."

But zombie lit isn't just for the guys. My school has plenty of girls who regularly request zombie books in the library. In anticipation of writing this article, I asked one of my zombie girls why she loves zombie books so much. She looked up at me with those huge, innocent blue eyes and said, "There's just so much action! You never know who is going to die next."


Books like Fischer's Zombies Don't Cry and Selzer's I Kissed A Zombie and I Liked It feature heroic zombie teens who are really kind of cute once you get to know them. Despite the skin hanging off their bones and an overwhelming need to dress in goth, the zombie characters are not necessarily mindless, brain-sucking monsters; rather, with problems similar to their teen readers, these zombies accept their undead state with humility and self-deprecating humor. Readers will fall in love with the characters and root for the lovebirds to finally receive that first real kiss.


For many zombie fans, death is not always meant to be serious or sad. When I asked some of my young readers what they like about zombie books, every one of them said they love the humor. Whether the book makes fun of zombie lore in general or the characters just die in an interesting way, zombie-loving teens don't care so much that the book be realistic or serious. Rather, I believe zombie books are escapist, much in the same way slasher horror films make people forget their worries while they are watching. Safe in the comfort of their own bedrooms, teen readers can escape their own troubles, even if only for a short while. After all, their own problems could never be as bad as those of a living teen corpse or a teen fighting a fetid army of mindless zombies.

More zombie reading--Zombie Love


  1. Great insight and a valuable resource. It just so happens I'm on a panel about Zombies & YA at a horror convention in a few weeks, and this will make great "data" for my talking points. Thanks for compiling this. It was definitely something I've been "feeling," watching new zombie books crop up each month, but now I have proof!

    Thanks, Mrs. ReaderPants!!!

  2. Ooh! A horror convention sounds like fun! Glad to help out!

    BTW, Zombies Don't Cry has a hold-list in my library. I just ordered more copies. The kiddos are loving it!


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