I suddenly realized that though I always have an audio book going and get through quite a lot of them, I haven’t been reviewing them. Here, have an audio book!
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. Narrated by Rebecca Soler. Listening Library, 2018.
Mila Flores never felt like she needed any friends besides her BFF, Riley. Mila dressed in combat boots and unabashedly called herself fat, while Riley called out anyone at their high school who was disrespectful of their Wiccan beliefs. (I didn’t check about whether the author considers herself Wiccan, but both author and narrator are Latinx, as is Mila.) Mila herself might not have been a truly devout Wiccan so much as disenchanted with the Christianity the conservative town espouses. Then Riley is found drowned in the creek just days two of the meanest girls at school, June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth, were found hanged in the park. Her family urges her to accept the police’s ruling of suicide – but Mila can’t. She’s sure they were all murdered, and wants to find the murderer before he strikes again. When an ancient grimoire with a spell for resurrecting the wrongfully dead appears at Mila and Riley’s hideout, she knows she has to try it, whatever the cost,even as the aging hippie owner of the town occult store, Lucky 13, warns her against it. She’s shocked when she raises not just Riley but June and Dayton as well – and none of them can remember their deaths. Even worse for Mila, it seems like they’d rather just hang out and enjoy their extra few days of life while the spell lasts than try to figure it out. Can Mila convince them to help her in time?
Rebecca Soler has always been a solid narrator (she also did Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles), and here she does quite well with various teen voices, including Mila’s attempts at the Spanish she should know but isn’t really comfortable with. It did take a little while for this to gel into the girl gang the title promised. But I loved Mila, so unshakable in her belief that her best friend wouldn’t have left her like that deliberately that she’s willing to put everything else in her life on the line to figure it out. Her Wicca felt a lot like the Wicca of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a little bit of genuine Wicca blended with storybook magic for better, well, story-telling. I loved when someone accused her of being a bruja, and she said that the brujería had been stamped out of her family generations ago – she was a straight-up New Age witch. (Not an exact quotation, as I was listening while driving.) Though I often chafe at revenge stories, this had enough learning more about classmates she’d made assumptions about that there was a lot of self-discovery, along with the ever-present snarky humor, to balance it out. It also had a nice twist that I did not see coming. This is a lot of fun, with deeper themes of looking beyond the personas we all present to the world and the deep wounds of patriarchy.
Other teen books that have reminded me of Buffy include Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.