In the very, very near future, everyone—you, me, Barbara Kingsolver, V. S. Naipaul—will write a zombie novel. Julian Barnes? Booker Prize–winning zombie novelist. The tremulous laptop-tickler at your local Starbucks? Working on a zombie novel. It was Colson Whitehead who showed us the way last year, with his book Zone One, in which an armed-to-the-teeth narrator picks his way through zombie-toppled America, limpidly recalling the zombificent TV shows, the zombificent jobs, the general setting-in of obsolescence and undead vibes that preceded the actual zombie apocalypse. Brainy prose, the damned in hordes: Whitehead, a MacArthur genius, had dived dazzlingly off the parapet of highbrow and into a pile of zombies. We rejoiced, and reviewed Zone One very favorably; some of us even bought ourselves a copy. And in our excitement, we entirely failed to notice the publication of Why I Quit Zombie School, by R. L. Stine (aka “Jovial Bob Stine”), who, over the course of his career, has sold more than 350 million books.
It’s true that Why I Quit Zombie School does not perform at quite the level of Zone One. We do not find Stine, for example, describing his zombies as “muddle-minded and peckish.” He sketches in broader strokes: “Behind me, they grunted and groaned as they forced their dead legs forward.” Or: “No blood. The leg cracked off, but the boy didn’t bleed.” Then again, it should be noted that his readership is in fourth grade. Goosebumps, the absurdly successful series under whose umbrella Why I Quit Zombie School appeared, is aimed without mercy at 9- and 10-year-olds. Precocious second- or third-graders may be interested, as may fifth- or even sixth-graders with a retro sensibility. But fourth grade—that’s the demographic bull’s-eye.