Travel back to 1990’s New Orleans during Fang Fest, a vampire-themed extravaganza, and relive your teen years in this bloody YA tale of gruesome murders, sisterly love, and supernatural discoveries.
It’s 1995 and Fang Fest is about to begin. 17-year-old Mina lands in New Orleans to stay with her older sister, Libby, and have the vacation of a lifetime. Besides checking out haunted attractions and eerie cemeteries, Mina scopes out her temporary housemate & fellow horror fan, Jared. All is well and spooky until she stumbles upon a gruesome crime scene and her group is quickly involved in a series of murders that lead them down a dark road they didn’t know existed.
The setting of Mina and the Undead was the biggest appeal to me. A romanticized, spooky New Orleans hosting a horror event in the 90s is a very specific, albeit amazing, daydream. The author takes care in describing her favorite NOLA haunts and slyly explains what beignets are to those who aren’t 0% acclimated with New Orleans culture. There’s too many vampire film references in here to count, but they all just melt together and reinforce the fact that this book is most definitely about VAMPIRES. I almost forgot to mention the incredible workplace of Libby and Mina (named after Mina Harker and Elizabeth Bathory, eek.). It’s a haunted attraction/museum featuring immersive recreations of famous horror scenes. See what I mean? This setting is a literal Disneyland for horror fans and morbid history buffs. There is sufficient gore here to be called a horror story, with murdered girls meant to reenact infamous NOLA crimes. And, you know, vampires. Though it’s not extremely visceral, the descriptions of violence get the job done and don’t steer towards wholly uncomfortable territory (possible triggers: blood, blood drawing, knives).
Once you’re past the visuals, you start to understand the issues our characters are juggling. I appreciated the fragile relationship the sisters were carrying throughout. It’s difficult to talk about familial issues, let alone being in your teens/early twenties and hashing it out during a vacation-turned-murder spree. Libby and Mina felt like actual sisters on paper. This is a YA novel, so there’s going to be a gushy little love story tucked in here. I thought the author did an excellent job representing teenagers and how they behave (though these ones were a lot more level headed than I ever was). The conclusion was a bit tame for my taste but the choices all of the characters made were smart. I’m so glad Mina didn’t blindly charge into a relationship and I’m glad the sisters cautiously reevaluated their mommy issues together. Is being smart with emotional issues always realistic? No, but it’s a hell of a good example to leave behind for readers, especially younger ones.
Overall, this book is straight up spooky, addictive FUN. From the Dracula-drenched theme to the love letter to New Orleans, it’s a feast for vampire fiction fans, true crime sleuths who like a good romp through make-believe, or readers of YA horror. If you’re lucky enough to purchase a physical copy, you’ll be treated to a VHS-inspired cover and spine with black-edged pages of the gothiest caliber.
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