Zombies vs. Unicorns: How Short Stories for Teens Should Be Done!


Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Before opening the book, I was firmly a Team Zombie type of gal.  Rotting flesh captures my attention a lot more than lovely white horses.  Sick, I know.   But by the end of this anthology of short stories, I’m leaning more towards those lovely and vicious white horses.

Created from a conversation on Holly Black’s and Justine Larbalestier’s blogs, these stories answer the age-old question of whether zombies or unicorns are better.  A group of bestselling authors of teen fiction joined the battle with their short stories.  The book reads in alternating stories.  One zombie, the next unicorn.  I was impressed by the level of the stories in the collection, offering such a range of takes on zombies and unicorns.  This book is sure to fly off of the shelves thanks to the zombies, the unicorns, and the tantalizing authors involved.  Those authors include, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, and Meg Cabot.

Just as with any short story collection, there are some stories that stick with the reader longer.  Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvillea is a zombie story set in a world where the zombies have taken over almost completely.  Iza’s father took her and her mother to the safety of an island where he became dictator and kept the population alive.  The story is about control, heritage, and of course, life and death.   There is a wonderful tone to this story, an anchored feeling that remains even as the zombies emerge.  Another of my favorites is The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund.    Wen saw her cousins slaughtered by a unicorn, now when she sees a captured unicorn at a side show, she is shocked to find herself connecting with it.  She returns the next day, drawn by something and ends up saving a new born unicorn from being killed.  Now she has to figure out what to do with the adorable but deadly creature.   Peterfreund builds a great story effortlessly here, offering a wry tone and another look at her take on killer unicorns.  Scott Westerfeld’s Inoculata offers a zombie tale with a twist.  Here the humans are barricaded against the zombie onslaught again, but something happens that changes everything.  Westerfeld is master of horror mixed with science and that is evident in this story as well.   The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey tells the story of a unicorn who heals but also steals years of life away.  He is an addict, unable to stop killing or shortening lives.  He meets two virgins who bring him deeper into connection with emotions and happiness, but loses both of them.  Now he is seeking a third virgin.  He hopes that this one can either stop his pain altogether or kill him.  It is an achingly beautiful story with a cunning twist. 

A delight of a short story collection.  It turns out it doesn’t matter if Team Zombie or Team Unicorn wins the battle.  The people who really have won are the readers of the stories.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

Reviewed across the blogosphere with far too many to link to. 

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2 thoughts on “Zombies vs. Unicorns: How Short Stories for Teens Should Be Done!

  1. Haven’t read this yet, but will, especially since it’s a Cybs now.
    The thing I most cheered for in this collection is the way it came together — the germ of a spark of an idea, based on a funny argument — and then a year later, voila. A book proposal. Stories, authors coming together and choosing a side between the rotting dead and the vicious equine. I’m sure we can hum Ebony & Ivory (Or Rotten Corpse and White Horsie?) now and think about world unity…


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