Book Review: Zombies vs. Unicorns (Which team are you?)

Forget about Team Edward or Team Jacob, or Team Peeta or Team Gale.

We want to know … Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

Now that is really the question.

The debate originated back in 2007 on the blogs of YA authors Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier … and then it spread. And pretty soon, key members of the YA world were embroiled in a debate of epic proportions.

Which was better: zombies or unicorns? Which creature made for better fiction?

The debate may finally (or not) be put to rest with the short story anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns, in stores later this month. Each author compiled a group of authors for their teams and set out to show the strengths of zombies and unicorns.

I must say, I love everything about this book. From the design (it’s like a wacky, retro zombie twist on a Lisa Frank binder cover) to the concept to the stories themselves. Everything about this book is a total win.

The stories are all varied and unique — and range from the heartbreaking to the tragic to the outrageously hilarious. There’s no doubt, when you read Zombies vs. Unicorns you will pick out which stories speak to you more than others. But be prepared for some surprises. I, for one, cracked the spine expecting to side with the unicorns. They’re generally sparkly and pretty and shiny. Also, I prefer my undead to be sparkly and pretty and shiny, too. (*Ahem, Edward Cullen, ahem.*) But after reading all of the stories in Zombies vs. Unicorns, I found myself reluctantly & surprisingly siding with Team Zombie.

And really, you must choose a side here. There is no “Team Switzerland” or neutral territory. (I mean, just head to Simon & Schuster’s Zombies vs. Unicorns landing page. There’s a poll right there, asking you to vote!) And if you think you can’t choose, think again. Just sit down and read this book, and by the time you’re done, you’ll be surprised to discover just how easy it is to pick sides.

There’s really something wonderful about all of the stories in Zombies vs. Unicorns, but here are a few (from both Team Zombie & Team Unicorn) that really stood out to me:

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

There’s something disturbingly sweet and romantic about a young zombie trying to avoid eating brains because he’s totally crushing on this cute guy in his class. And there’s something disturbingly sweet and romantic about that cute guy letting the young zombie eat brains because he kind of likes him, too. This has one of those charmingly awkward gay high school love stories like you might find in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. But with zombies.

“Purity Test” by Naomi Novik

Who doesn’t love a sarcastic unicorn? Harry Potter references oozing with said sarcasm also give this story mega points in my book.

“The Children of the Revolution” by Maureen Johnson

It doesn’t matter that you know from the beginning of this story that things will end badly. It’s still disturbingly hilarious. There’s an odd mix of subtlety and the obvious going on that really works, in a strange way. Also, the pseudo-Madonna/Angelina Jolie celebrity character is a total hoot. Especially when you start putting all the pieces of this bizarre story together.

“The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn” by Diana Peterfreund

I loved this story before I started reading it simply because of the title. It’s sort of epic, in and of itself. But the story is also incredibly complex and deep. It’s also nice to see a decidedly bloody twist on the unicorn story. There’s no glitter or rainbows here, but the story works on many levels — and the characters, especially, are really strong.

“Cold Hands” by Cassandra Clare

If our month-long feature on all of her books in August wasn’t proof enough, we love Cassie Clare here at Novel Novice. And her contribution to Zombies vs. Unicorns is no exception. Her zombie love story is worth noting –for many reasons. One, because it’s told in first person (Cassie’s books are all third person narratives) … and two, because it’s awesome. It’s an imperfect love story, told only as Cassie can tell it.

“Prom Night” by Libba Bray

Prom just isn’t the same when all the adults have turned into zombies, and so have some of the teens. But this story mixes the desperation of a post-zombie apocalyptic world with humor and sass like no other.

Regarding the other stories (also worth noting):

If you want a classic unicorn story with a twist, look no further than “The Highest Justice” by Garth Nix. There’s royalty afoot! And killer unicorns.

“Bougainvillea”by Carrie Ryan is a standalone short story that fits into the mythology of her best-selling books The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves. (I actually liked this story better than The Forest of Hands and Teeth!)

Margo Lanagan’s “A Thousand Flowers” is a bizarre, twisted sort of love story. It also has knights and ladies and a unicorn. Not necessarily in that order.

Scott Westerfeld’s “Inoculata” has a lot of the same qualities found in his Uglies series. But with zombies. Teen heroes FTW!

See Meg Cabot’s “Princess Pretty Pants” for a kick-ass unicorn with an unfortunate name, and the hilarious habit of farting rainbows. No, really.

Get a different kind of unicorn story with Kathleen Duey’s “The Third Virgin” — in which the unicorn has a hard time balancing good and evil. Bonus points from me because it’s mostly set in Portland, Oregon.

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