I like YA fiction, I like YA paranormal fiction, and I like heroines who are trying to figure out what the hell they need to do with themselves when they find out they have more than the standard order of angst on their cafeteria tray. Stacey Jay writes in a friendly, easy style that readers looking for a fun and low-impact read will enjoy, and the otherworldly elements are woven into the story from the heroine’s perspective so that the reader and the narrator discover that world simultaneously.
Megan Berry is a zombie settler, a gift that keeps on giving: any dead with unfinished business (and really, whose death is neat and timely?) may, depending on how close they are in age to Megan, show up on the front porch for settlement, which is when Megan asks a bunch of questions, finds out what the undead needs in terms of closure in order to stay dead, and then sends the undead back to their grave. It was chilling to me that the zombies would make noises of great relief when they were sent back to their graves, that the pain of being unfinished would be so immense that turning it over to a settler to finish would be a visceral relief.
Megan, however, hasn’t been a settler for awhile. And when her settler activities perk up again suddenly, she finds herself confronting more than just the undead and unsettled. Someone is using black magic to turn the mildly angsty zombies into full-on brain-craving flesh-eating zombies, and Megan is somehow tied to whomever is behind it.
All the standard operatives of YA teen fiction are here: the intrepid heroine, doing as best as she can; the slightly sour poisonous rival who resents her presence; the best friend who is noble and loyal; and the oddly distant but smoldering guy who seems interested but doesn’t give too much away.
Unfortunately, nothing more than the standard elements were present. The plot was mostly setup for sequels, and the bigger questions asked in the narrative are not answered. Moreover, I couldn’t see any parallel between the heroine’s public life and her settler life – they were so at odds with one another I didn’t understand why the settlers didn’t just permanently take positions as livein caretakers of cemetaries and be done with the alleged hiding of their abilities. There’s an organizing body of settlers who keep track of all the settling folks, and their role seems inane. The settlers themselves are partially in fear of their organizing body, and can be forced to move and hide when their abilities are noticed or remarked upon by a neighbor, even if circumstances are beyond their control. Seems patently irresponsible of the governing body to have its members hide in plain sight when that means the dead who need help finding rest will show up at their front doors in the evening and then go tearing off to the cemetary moaning in relief when they’re done.
It’s also unexplained how the villain figured out so much of the powers without being noticed by the overseeing organization, given how Big Brother they are about the settlers’ lives.
And oh, my God, the villain. A trifecta of cliche was achieved and the total sum was so ridiculous it rendered the plot campy and silly rather than visercally creepy or thrilling.
The larger significance of the heroine’s talent in settling the dead isn’t explored except in the narration, which glosses over the parts I found most compelling. For example, XXX manifests her power to settle much younger than most, and thus the undead and unrelieved appear on her porch beginning when she’s a young girl. Megan also mentions that settlers attract zombies of their own age or similar – so that’s a whole mess of dead and unsettled children hanging out on the front stoop. I’d have needed a serious amount of Xanax after that, but it seems like no big deal to the narrator.
Plus, the female settlers lose their powers when their daughters manifest their own set of settling mojo – which would seem to create an imbalance in the age of the individuals attracted for guaranteed eternal rest. If the young are bringing out the dead, and there’s fewer adults with active powers to bring their own dead to the yard, then what happens to the souls who are in the 35-50 age bracket when there’s not as many settlers to help them to permanent rest?
Jay has a wonderfully cinematic style to her writing, and her descriptions hold a clarity that allowed me to picture the scenes in my head as if I were watching them on tv. I could see this as a teen show that didn’t have much at work beneath it, with precious little subtext or significance but enough gloss and strength in the possibility of the characters that it would be picked up for a season or two, or more. I like the heroine, and I like the dude set up as the hero, but enough happens that’s bizarre and insignificant, and enough doesn’t happen to establish the characters with any multidimensional motivation, that I’m don’t see myself going past the pilot episode. Ultimately, I was unable to turn off the part of my brain that said, “But wait… how come… wait, huh?”