I wanted this book to be great, because of the title and because of the premise: Mila doesn't believe that her best friend kills herself, so she brings her back from the dead (along with a couple of other girls) to figure out who murdered her. Creepy, delightful romp!
Undead Girl Gang, by Lily Anderson, has a lot going on--possibly way too much. I want to start with the fact that the Jennys read this at Reading the End last week, so check out their podcast for an excellent review that covers the good (friendship!), the bad (uniformly stupid adults), and the ugly (really wild misconceptions about suicide). I agree with their entire review, so I'm going to cover most of this with some quick bullets:
- The best part was the friendship that grows between Mila and her (resurrected) best friend, Riley, and the two other girls she accidentally brings back as well, Dayton and June. "The Proper Nouns," as Mila calls them, have been popular bullies for years, but now they have a forced proximity/grudging respect thing going on, which is super charming.
- The book has wild tonal swings from silly conversations about junk food to huge murder plots, but it skimps on some of the emotions you'd most expect in this situation, namely shock and any kind of existentialism. I don't think there's one conversation about what happens after the girls' seven-day resurrection is over and they go "back."
- All the adults are horrible. Mila's family is completely indifferent to who she is as a person, even as she's mourning her best friend. Her wicca mentor shoots up a house containing living people for VERY POORLY DEFINED REASONS. The school councilor seems pretty damned vapid (though I think the book tries to fake you out as though this was a misconceptions; I think it fails at that).
Which sounds dumb--I'm sorry, are there holes in your raising the dead plot? But the murder mystery gets extreme short shrift, to the point where you can use the Law of Economy of Characters to figure out who did it. I knew very early on, and I was hoping it was a fake-out, but no, it was just sitting there, right out front.
But going back to the beginning, there are all these moments where Mila figures something out--like "the murderer must be one of our classmates" and the book--neither in-story nor the author--does nothing to dissuade her from that. Like, if there's a serial killer, it must be one of the students, because all the victims are high school girls. I...don't think that's how crime works?
Or the wiccans are all "this is very dark magic; mess with the balance and it will turn back on you threefold," but....actually no? There is (spoiler not spoiler) no actual magical comeuppance for the act of raising the dead. That's a pretty big omission when a big plot line is about how bad an idea it is to raise the dead. I mean, it actually goes pretty well, I think?
And without spoiling it any further, I will say that the explanation for why the killer did it failed to fit any kind of psychological profile I can imagine. It was as though 75% of the book was written and THEN the villain was chosen and an explanation was given. If you don't think back too hard and you squint your eyes, maybe it makes sense--his motivation makes sense--but nothing about him or his past actions or anything else fits in any way with the final explanation.
I'm sorry to be so moany--I will review a good one next. And it was a sweet, entertaining book with a likeable but sourpuss main character and some charming friendships. I was just not able to suspend my disbelief--in the emotional stuff, not the necromancy--enough to call it a good pick for me.