Spaghetti strap dresses & zombie apocalypse: Dia of the Dead, by Brit Brinson

And now we have a Tale of Two Zombie Books. I just got finished saying YA isn’t my thing and I don’t really care for zombies, and yet here I am with another YA zombie book. I’m really trying to push myself out of the Zone of Things E Already Knows Ze Likes. It’s good to branch out.
This month I’m looking at Dia of the Dead, debut novel of Brit Brinson. DotD comes to us from Big Moon Press, which also brought you the great reset #1. You wouldn’t be wrong for rubbing your chin & thinking, “hmm.” While reading, in the back of my mind I found myself spotting similarities that made me think “uh-oh” more than a few times, especially reading both books back to back like I did. But to compare & contrast the two like a freshman year paper is a great disservice to both; beyond a few stylistic similarities, Dia manages to break off & do her own thing pretty early.
You know what this book reminds me of? Spaghetti strap dresses and flashy fabric, giant wedge shoes impossible to run in, and pretty young things in mortal terror a la Scream. I love it. My initial comparison while I was reading was the good campy fun on the cult-ish Canadian show Big Wolf on Campus but I’m certain more people will appreciate the Scream reference (sadly). Both of those make sense, because in her day job, fledgling actress Dia Summers is undead superhero Dia Muerto, catsuit and ponytail and all. I’d love to see the script for that, by the way. In fact, skip the obligatory YA blockbuster movie and make this one a show. If we were truly back in the noughties, this would have a soundtrack with a bunch of alt-rock tunes.
Which is why that’s probably my favorite aspect of it: everything just gels. There is not a bump in the melding of sleazy young Hollywood parties with zombie outbreak. Of course there’s dangerous drugs. Of course the teen cast of a show hates each other’s guts for petty reasons. Of course Reagan is an unstable jerk–and not a very sympathetic one at that. In fact, there are a lot of things at play here that I wouldn’t necessarily forgive in another book, but here it makes sense because that’s the atmosphere Brinson has created and everything supports that.
DotD certainly does not skimp on the gore either, which is a great contrast between the pretty, distant world of Teen Hollywood and brings it right back down to earth. If you don’t laugh at at least one of Dia’s sardonic observations of a zombie nomming on someone’s leg like a barbecue chicken wing, then I don’t know what to tell you. Or maybe I’m too far gone.
Brinson has clearly worked hard to make the mechanics of DotD work together like a well-oiled machine, and it’s not hard to get drawn into Dia’s world, which unfortunately ends up as a double-edged sword. As much fun as I had with this book, at times it felt like…well, a well-written episode of something. To an extent this is obviously intentional and there’s evidence to support that–the ending definitely feels like a “season finale”–but it coincides with another issue: as a first person narrative, we’re largely in Dia’s head. We’re observing through her eyes, and what she knows of the people around her, and at times that makes the other characters seem more like TV archetypes than real people. And as a reader, I (and you) have to decide for myself: when is this intentional or not, and is it a good thing? Just about everyone has their moments of growth and development, but when it comes it’s predictable and even disappointing with the pay-off (clears my throat Brendan). To that end, it even works as a deconstruction of teen shows if you think about it…wow, this got cerebral.
That being said, even though I think a third person narrative would have made this a different story, I did enjoy the moments of conflict & doubt Dia had with herself and her superhero alter ego. I liked the moments when we stopped & acknowledged her experience as Afro-Latina and how it influenced the conflicts she had with the studio, other Bixby stars, and generally connecting to anyone. I believe that in a second book (yes?) most of the issues of characterization would be ironed out further to make everyone stronger (well, almost everyone). “Growing the beard”, as we say in the Star Trek universe.
Dia of the Dead is a strong showing that’s hilarious, creepy, gross, and oddly nostalgic. Like any good show, it starts off strong with good build up, and I’d love to see a second season to see where it goes. Here’s hoping it gets renewed! Grab it here from your friends at BMP.