Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she's a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who's been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.
That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn't have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there's a job waiting for her at the parish morgue—and that it's an offer she doesn't dare refuse.
Before she knows it she's dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey—just when she's hungriest!
Angel's going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn't, she's dead meat.
AKLNDFLKND HOLY FUCKING GOD YOU GUYS, THIS WAS AMAZING. NO SERIOUSLY, I'M NOT EVEN BEING IRONIC RIGHT NOW THIS IS LEGIT EXCITE ENTHUSIASTIC CAPS TYPING. Seriously, I had begun to despair of ever finding a decent fucking Urban Fantasy book that didn't make me want to brick someone's face in, and thanks completely to Shiori's prodding, I got to read one. I GOT TO READ ONE. IT'S BEEN SO LONG. OH GOD I HAD FORGOTTEN WHAT LOVE WAS LIKE...
My Life as a White Trash Zombie puts the genre to shame. It puts 99.9% of this genre's protagonists to shame. It takes most other books' DRAMATIC APOCALYPTIC WORLD-END LOVE TRIANGLE stakes and just slaps into oblivion with REALITY (+zombies), and it is glorious.
But if we don't get some structure up in this review, I will continue to rave like an inarticulate fangirl, so I'm going to do that horrifyingly twee "REASONS YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK" thing, and inarticulately fangirl in an ordered list. Ahem.
5 Reasons You Should Read My Life as a White Trash Zombie
1. Angel Crawford is Better Than
You Everything Else
Yeah, that's right, everything else. Seriously, you try going through half the crap Angel has to deal with and see if you come out with a quarter of her spine.
There is a substance and tenacity to Angel that I almost never see in urban fantasy anymore. She doesn't have her shit together out of the box; in fact, her shit is all over the place, and the whole point of the book is that it's going to be a difficult task to get it in order, but that's the best part. Angel's life is a challenge that she is damn well up to. She doesn't want anyone to rescue her or pity her or make things easy on her; her whole arc is about coming to realize her own worth, earning her place, her pride, and living her life on her own terms.
It's almost pathetically exciting to me that Angel has actual flaws that are not being "clumsy" or a bad cook or "too loyal", and that Rowland isn't afraid to get all up in your face with them. Yeah, she's popping pills and hanging out with a drug dealer and generally fucking up AND SHE'S STILL THE HEROINE, SUCK IT! Angel has no self-esteem, no ambition, very little self-control, and she's made a lot of bad decisions, but she's not shamed or vilified or made to seem lesser for any of that. She overcomes it. I think the defining difference between WTZ and SO MANY OTHER BOOKS HERE LET ME JUST POINT TO LIKE THE ENTIRE GENRE is that the narrative actually acknowledges Angel's flaws, has Angel acknowledge her flaws, and then allows her to grow from them, whereas many other books just steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that they exist. I don't even know if I can accurately describe how satisfying that is.
The whopping cherry on top of this magical sundae is that, in allowing Angel to be responsible for herself, not once does the book sacrifice her intelligence, independence, or agency for the sake of the plot, or worse, romance. So there's no brain-bleeding TSTL action, no spunky agency, and sweet mother of cabbage, no waiting around to get saved.
Which brings me to my second point:
2. The Universe Does Not Revolve Around Penis
You know, about a quarter of the way into the story, I legit paused and thought, "There is something weird about this book. What is missing here?" And then I realized: there was a distinct lack of romantic penis presence. Angel was concentrating on her job and figuring out her zombie-ism, rather than spending every spare moment agonizing over whether or not some dude loved her.
HO. LY. SHIT.
Oh god, it's like the first breath of fresh air after crawling out of a sewer filled with the stank of insta!love and romantic angst and love triangles and men inextricably tied to plot resolution and destiny, and oh god, the air is so sweet up here, I never knew! This...this isn't a romance novel! It's just straight-up urban fantasy, where the heroine is the focus, and not just a vehicle to the hot, sexy mens!
I mean, yes, she does still have a boyfriend, and yes, there is also a love interest, but they are not at the center of the galaxy. They're out there on the edges, with like Uranus and Neptune*, hell, even Pluto! Angel encounters them occasionally, but even when she does, the interactions don't exist purely for the sake of sex or romance or angst; they're not just another predictable step stone on the road to forever and ever, amen. They're about Angel, and her relationships with the men in her life change as she develops and grows.
Which is FUCKING AWESOME.
*There is a slight caveat to this, but we'll get to that later.
You know what I loved about this book? Its scale. This isn't a wide-sprawling epic; Angel doesn't have to save the world, she isn't the Prophesied Messiah of Zombiekind. She wasn't plucked from her upper-middle-class life to become a Zombie Princess, nor was she trained from birth to be the Best Goddamn Zombie at What She Zombies. She is just a woman, who makes a few bad decisions one night in a bar, and happens to get turned into a zombie. A white trash zombie whose death inspires her to do some serious life-assessment.
The development that Angel experiences throughout this book just blows my mind. She has to go through so much awfulness that most authors never even let near their precious protagonists in any meaningful way; things that so, so many books like to pretend don't exist. Angel has to overcome a history of addiction, childhood abuse, poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, a police record, and oh yeah, a craving for brains, and she does. But more importantly, Rowland lets her. With the exception of zombiehood and a few of the premise-setting perks*, shit doesn't just get handed to Angel. She has to fight with herself to keep her job, she has to fumble through figuring out how being a zombie works, she slips up, she gets hurt, she almost gives up, she doesn't believe in herself, it takes a lot for her to leave her abusive father, and when she does, she doesn't magic up a comfortable new life away from him. She's friggin' homeless for some of the book! And it's just...amazing to see. In any other book, this would be the mopey segment where the heroine is thrown out, and wanders through the city in the rain until she's whisked away from her troubles by some handsome penis; in White Trash Zombie, Angel is given the agency to make this decision for herself, while understanding the full ramifications of what she's doing. She formulates a plan, even homeless in her car, to make a better life for herself.
I know that a lot of reading, especially in this genre, is about escapism, and I definitely get that, but...it's nice to have a character face obstacles that mean something, that people in the real world actually have to deal with, especially ones that tend to get ignored or demonized because they are so very unglamorous. It's something I'd like to see more of.
4. Diana Rowland Gets It
Hey, hey, you know how like every other book in this genre likes to pretend that controlling Alpha males totally aren't a thing, or don't seem to grasp why having a heroine defined by spunky agency or an inability to protect themselves would frustrate readers? And how that can make you just want to punch things into the wall? I think...I think Diana Rowland might get that, too.
That bought me a few seconds. I could see it better now. Male, probably white, though the face was too decomposed to be completely sure. One eye was clouded over and dark teeth were visible through a bloodless gash in one cheek. Its hands had ribbons of skin trailing from them and several fingernails were missing.I WANTED TO CURL UP AND MOAN IN HORROR, BUT I DIDN'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT SHIT. HOLY FUCK. This is a heroine who has just been in a car crash, has her right arm bone sticking out of her arm, blood gushing from her head, and she's wrestling with a fucking ZOMBIE over a body. And it's not because the zombie wants to kill her, or the body is the key to saving the world, or saving her boyfriend, or her second cousin twice removed, but because she doesn't want to get fired from the job that she likes. SHE'S TAKING A STAND OVER PERSONAL PRIDE IN HER JOB. WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?
This...is a zombie. I silently shrieked to myself. Holy fucking shit. That's a motherfucking zombie, and this shit is real.
I didn't dare think about what that meant. I wanted to curl up and moan in horror, but I didn't have time for that shit. I couldn't let this thing - this zombie - get my body.
Then somewhere towards the end of the book, this happens:
She was almost out the door before I could manage a response. "Monica, wait." I croaked.
She stopped in the doorway, slowly turned back.
"I...why do you...?" Shit, I couldn't say what I knew I wanted to say. Why are you angry for my sake when this is something I did to myself? Why are you pissed on my behalf when I was the moron who got drunk and got into the car with him? Why don't you hate me as much as I hate myself?
Monica's expression softened, though her mouth stayed hard. "Nobody deserves to be raped. Nobody."
"But - but I wasn't raped," I blurted.
Her eyes darkened. "Not every rape is physical."
There are things like this all through the book. Little lines and moments of empowerment and empathy and understanding that are just so YES, THIS! and welcome to see in an urban fantasy book. And I know, I know, they shouldn't be a big deal, and it shouldn't be an ~exciting thing~ to have an active heroine, or an author who doesn't slut-shame or victim blame, but oh my god look at like the last eight books we've reviewed, this is a rare fucking thing, like a blue moon occurrence, so read WTZ and savor it while you can.
5. Also There is a Cool Plot and Stuff Too
I know I keep talking about Angel and how awesome she is, and to be truthful, that is like 99% of the awesome, but I did like the plot of the book, as well. It's a switch up from my usual read, a murder mystery that is interwoven with Angel's adjustment to day-to-day life as a zombie, and the lingering questions about how and why she was made one in the first place.
I thought Rowland juggled the stories pretty well. They were closely enough tied together to develop organically, it was believable for Angel to stay as actively involved as she was, and the ending came together pretty well. I thought the "click" moment where Angel finally understood everything was a little...sudden? But the villain was sympathetic, the end battle was a very satisfying payoff for both the mystery and Angel's development as a character.
I also really like the setup. It says in Rowland's biography that she's been involved with law enforcement and worked as a morgue technician, and it shows. The morgue procedures, autopsy descriptions, crime scene work, the relationships between the different investigators, it all makes the story feel believable and real and grounded.
Finally, this is something of a non sequitur, but I love the gore. I love that Rowland is not afraid to go there, with the descriptions of Angel's body decomposing and the autopsies and even the way Angel handles and eats the brains. I'm not a gore-hound by any means, but it's so ballsy that I can't help but take a little joy in it. Yeah, the heroine is eating slices of dead-person brains, DEAL WITH IT.
CaveatsYes! There are some! I liked this book quite a bit, but it isn't perfect. I have exactly three problems with White Trash Zombie:
One, the writing: not so great. I understand part of it being writing in Angel's voice, because Angel is uneducated and a bit rough around the edges, but the book lacks a lot of subtlety in general. It can be bad about over-explaining Angel's feelings and some plot points, and while I loved all of those ~squee~feminism~ moments, oh wow were they hammered in there. Like, I very much agree with the sentiment, but I feel like they could be a little less PSA-y.
Except for that "shit to do" quote, that was great.
Two, inclusion. I think there are like two people of color in this book? And one of them dies. Everyone else is very white, and very straight, and this is Louisiana, yo! I was really hoping for more from an author who seems so socially aware.
Third, the ending. SPOILERS YO.
If I didn't have assurances from Shiori that the next book fixed the very specific problems that arise from the ending of this one, I'd be pissed. PISSED. That ending. Oh my god. Basically what it comes down to is that Angel was turned in to a zombie by the guy who would become her love interest, and at the end of this story, when this all comes to light, she is TOTALLY OKAY with that.
This guy took it upon himself to "improve" every single aspect of Angel's life without Angel's consent. He turned her into a flesh-eating zombie, which on its own is KIND OF A BIG DEAL, but it also nullified her ability to feel the effects of drugs and alcohol, essentially "curing" her addiction. Then he set her up in a "respectable" job that he basically blackmailed her into going to, all without telling her a goddamn thing about what had happened to her.
I really, really dislike pretty much everything about this. It really bothers me that zombie-ism magically cured Angel's addiction to drugs without her having to deal with any side effects, or even making the decision to quit herself (although in retrospect, her zombie arc and "brains addiction" provided a sort of analogue...BUT STILL), I hate that the impetus for her life re-assessment was a
high-handed intervention by some dude who wanted to bone her (granted, Angel was dying when he turned her...BUT STILL, not a fan of that particular situation), but most of all, I hate that, at the end of White Trash Zombie, none of that bothered Angel, and she ended the book cheerfully making out with this guy.
That comes really, really close to killing my OMG THIS IS AWESOME buzz, but like I said, I'm assured it gets addressed in the next one, so I'm trying to let it slide.
But those problems aside, this book was just...god, such a great break. I have hope for the sequel, the author has a whole other series to check out, and it restores my faith in humanity to know that there's an urban fantasy series out there that doesn't fail at everything. This is definitely one to buy, immediately if not sooner.