Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Academic Program Adviser
After the terror attacks of 9/11, zombie stories experienced an unprecedented boom, or for some critics, a renaissance. Fears of mass death, infiltration by the Other, and life before and after the apocalyptic moment were played out through zombie stories. The longevity of the boom also saw the zombie myth move into strange new places including Young Adult novels, resulting in what I refer to as the “Gen Z zombie.”
In his discussion of the sympathetic zombie, Kyle Bishop Williams mentions YA zombie texts including Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies but groups them with other contemporary zombie story types, including the zombie comedy. He suggests that this kind of zombie offers a seductive escape from the pressures of modern life, but my survey of YA texts (including Warm Bodies, Daniel Waters’s Generation Dead, and Darren Shan’s Zom-B), suggests that the Gen Z zombie is more than empathetic—it is reflective of the target audience’s experience.
These books are not part of the zombie renaissance, but a reaction to it. Many of these newer narratives are set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, where the triggering catastrophe is a part of history. The young protagonists (some of them zombies) find themselves facing a world of anxiety, distrust, and fear created by the generations that came before. The sort of character who would be a hero in a post-9/11 zombie story has their morality called into question in these YA texts. After all, the undead cannot help their physical state and the adults have become soulless and horrific by choice. Since monstrosity is displaced from the zombie and placed on older generations, adulthood becomes the new sickness that the young protagonists struggle to avoid.
McCormick, Jason, "The Gen Z Zombie: YA Takes On the Undead" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.