Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Title: Undead Girl Gang
Author: Lily Anderson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Topics: Friendship, grief, magic
Triggers: Suicide, some violence and gruesome imagery
Publishing Year: 2018
Format Read: Hardcover (Library)
My Rating: 4/5
I’m going to be real here, the title and cover completely drew me in when I first saw this book on a list of upcoming YA books (I mean look at that jean jacket pin combo, good job Razorbill marketing department!). The book delivers on it’s awesome cover: Undead Girl Gang is an fun, dark and utterly enjoyable mash up of fantasy, mystery and paranormal. It is a snarky, over-the-top Mean Girls meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you are looking to add some fun and magic to your Halloween YA TBR pick this one up.
Summary: Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There's not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley's favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone's explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer...before the killer strikes again.
Undead Girl Gang is so many things at once and it manages to do them all well. Part mystery, part paranormal, part romance, this book has it all. At its center is Mila, is a snarky teenage Wiccan, Mexican-American girl in a predominantly white town whose one friend has recently been found dead, apparently by suicide. Through Mila’s eyes Anderson launches an exploration on somber topics like grief, death, suicide, as well as high school-centric themes of popularity, finding “your people”, and the advantages of making friends beyond your circle. At the same time Anderson manages to inject levity and humor into the story in a way that does not diminish the weight of these themes but does prevent the story from feeling overly dark.
Although there are many moving parts to this story, the heart of the story remains the relationship between Mila and her best friend Riley and eventually June and Dayton as well. Two pairs of best friends who under normal circumstances would not give each other the time of day but who are brought together to solve the mystery of their deaths. Under these unexpected and bizarre circumstances the girls are forced to rely and test their trust in each other which starts out as an annoyance but ends up in one of the most affirming and positive friendships I’ve ready in a while. Mila in particular, but all the girls character grow in ways
Undead Girl Gang does fall into some of the more common YA fantasy pitfalls and the plotting and world building starts to show some cracks when examined too closely. For example Mila has relatively strict parents and nosy siblings but manages to repeatedly sneak out at night for a week to hang out with her undead friends. She also has the funds to feed her friends and purchase various supplies, and while she does attend class occasionally she also ditches many times without real consequences. Also the police is just incredibly incompetent in investigating a string of bizarre deaths. The book however almost invites the idea of not taking this too seriously and event pokes fun at itself several times.
I do want to give a special mention to two aspects of the book in particular that delighted me. First I want to give a shout out to the fat rep in the book. Mila is a self described fat girl, and while mentions of her body are not avoided, they are also never central, important or treated as something that needs to be “fixed”, a welcome change indeed. The second is the magic system in the book. The magic has a bit of a retro, Buffyesque charm with a secret world of magic hidden from unaware civilians with only a couple of people privy to the truth. However the descriptions and rules attached to the spells cast are quite vivid, memorable, and stand out among a large and saturated field of YA paranormals. Watching Mila perform some pretty bad ass magic (about which she was previously a skeptic) is a treat indeed.
Overall I found this book well worth the hours. It is particularly adept at balancing dark content with teenage snark and humor, contains an intriguing paranormal/mystery plot and tops it off with an awesome girl-power message about friendship overcoming social cliques. If you are looking for a fun, yet thought provoking YA novel with some ghoulish thrills but that is not overly scary to read this Halloween month, I recommend picking this one up or gifting it to a snarky, winged-eyeliner wearing teenager in your life.
Read if you like:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer