My Life as A White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland.
Angel Crawford's life is in a full scale, white trash downward spiral. Already a high school dropout and an unmotivated stoner, it doesn't seem like things can get any worse; until she wakes up in the hospital after being told she suffered a drug overdose. Unfortunately for Angel it's an all too possible explanation for an evening she can't remember.
But things quickly go from bad to weird when Angel receives a strange note telling her that a job awaits her at the local coroner's office and, if she finds herself with some weird cravings while carving up dead bodies, she should heed them.
I had such a strange aversion to giving this series a try when it first came out. I suppose it had something to do with the cover (though the "brains" tattoo is sheer genius) and the notion it gave me that I couldn't possibly relate to a white trash zombie. But I seriously underestimated the talent of Diana Rowland and the awesomeness of Angel Crawford.
The beauty of My Life as A White Trash Zombie is that Angel Crawford doesn't want to spend her whole life as a loser and when she's given an opportunity to change her life, she grabs on to it with both hands-- though being a zombie is hardly a conventional way to get ahead. Most zombie books are, understandably, horror novels that focus on the traditional notion that zombies are shambling, unaware monsters that are driven by their insatiable hunger for brains. Angel is somewhat like the zombies we all know (and I'll try to avoid being too spoilery here) in that her need for brains is a serious motivator in her worldview. But Rowland comes up with a plausible, if a little scientifically simplistic, explanation for the existence of zombies without the unstoppable mindlessness of the walking dead we all know and love. (Though the cause is really fleshed out, so to speak, in book 2)
The cool thing about My Life as a White Trash Zombie is that it's a book about second chances and a heroine who learns to rely on herself (and not a romantic interest for a change) to turn her life around. Being turned into a zombie does act as a shortcut in helping her resist the pitfalls of addiction that have plagued Angel for most of her young life and she's well aware of it. But rather than take anything for granted, or even feel sorry for her strange new life, Angel makes the most of her odd circumstances and proves to be a clever, likable lead character.
The only slight critique I'd have for My Life as a White Trash Zombie is the plot device that has Angel floundering around for a good portion of the book not knowing what precisely is going on. Normally, in a book like this-- in which a character is transformed from a normal human into a supernatural creature-- there would be a mentoring process of sorts that ushers the main character through the transition period. Angel only gets a vague, uninformative note. And the most frustrating thing about that aspect of the story is that it's totally illogical--and it's what makes the book so darn good.
Because Angel has to figure out what's going on all by herself, she quickly learns to trust her own instincts and not look to anyone to bail her out of trouble. And when a romantic interest does turn up (one with a strong savior complex to boot) Angel is quick to assert her independence.
The other thing I really loved about My Life as a White Trash Zombie is that Angel is forced to confront the bad choices she made in the past. It's true that her life has not been a fair one, but she isn't the kind of person to dwell on the unfairness of her circumstances-- she owns the crappy parts of her life that she's responsible for. Predictably, Angel runs into quite a bit of prejudice because of her sketchy past and criminal record, but she also learns that hard work and general likability earns quite a few allies and for every bump in the road there is someone who will help you get over it.
But don't let this review give you the impression that the whole book is some kind of Oprah-style, feminist story of empowerment. There might be that aspect of it (though I certainly wouldn't characterize it as Oprah-styled in any way) but it's also a fast-paced urban fantasy with plenty of action, humor (though no gawd-awful snark) and brain munching goodness. The only reason I focused so strongly on the angle of the story that shows Angel's increasing independence is because female characters like this are too rare in UF and YA books these days. It's amazing to me that so many women write so many female characters that can't seem to function without a man to bail them out-- but Angel Crawford isn't one of them. I'd recommend this book on the merits of its entertainment value alone, but Angel is truly a character to fall in love with.
4 out of 5 stars.