The Undead Truth of Us

Disney-Hyperion. Aug. 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781368075831.
Gr 9 Up–Zharie is completely unmoored after the sudden death of her single-parent mother. Gone are the boisterous dance sessions at her mother’s studio and a home filled with love and laughter, replaced by a lonely existence at her aunt’s bare apartment. Z (as her friends call her) is full of questions. The overwhelming one is why she sees zombies everywhere. Withdrawn from life, she perks up when new neighbor Bo breaks through to her with his honesty, even though he sometimes appears as a zombie as well. Bo’s strong friend group accepts her, and Z joins them on a camping trip that seems to end the friendship. But when she stumbles onto a secret from her mother’s past, she turns to Bo, and the two set off on an improbable trip from Kansas City to California to confront her biological father and try to get answers she desperately needs. Lyrical, vivid writing evokes the depths of Z’s emotions. Conversely, the many highly detailed descriptions of the zombies are a distraction (e.g., “her tattered skin stretched until the tissue spilled out”). Lewis’s portrayal of characters who are predominantly people of color is exceptional in the authentic dialogue and internal monologues that reference race. She also does an outstanding job portraying how teenagers see themselves and one another, how they try out different personalities and approaches to life. Z must take an otherworldly journey to navigate through unfathomable grief and loneliness, which the author makes bearable with writing that weaves a tapestry of colors and senses to capture her emotions.
VERDICT For teens who can handle dark themes of loss, this is an author whose voice needs to be heard.

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