Ever since its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest in 2017, the zombie musical ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE has taken the horror genre by storm. Recently, I had the chance to read the book, of the same name, from authors Katharine Turner and Barry Waldo. Full disclosure, I have not seen the film yet so I can’t compare it to that except to say that there are no musical numbers within the book. Inspired by the film’s narration, the novel is a perfect companion piece for those who have seen the movie as well as a great way to introduce those unfamiliar with the acclaimed horror/comedy.
The novel ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE centers around straight-A student Anna Shepherd. Anna, a senior in high school, is looking forward to graduation so that she can skip town and explore the world. On the surface she looks as though she has her life in order, but on a much deeper level she finds herself struggling with the passing of her mom as well as the annoying teen-related issues such as boy problems and drama. However, all that changes when one morning, on her way to school, she realizes that something seems very, very off. As fate would happen, the zombie apocalypse has begun and it’s up to her and her friends, as well as her frenemies, to battle it out with the undead in hopes of saving their loved ones before it’s too late.
It’s difficult for me to get excited about the zombie genre as I fully believe we are at the point of overly excessive saturation, but with all the praises that the film was garnering, I figured I would give the book a chance. I’m beyond glad that I did because I absolutely loved the book! Though not perfect, I felt like it really captured the heart of what being a teenager is like and how one must navigate that during one of the most horrific experiences imaginable. I also found myself relating a lot to the character of Anna in the sense that when I was a senior in high school my father passed away. Anna’s interaction with her father after the passing of her mom was very reminiscent of conversations I found myself having with my mom after my dad died. While reading this book, I was hit with a tidal wave of emotions just with Anna’s backstory alone as it brought up a lot of buried memories that I forgot I had.
As for the motley crew of characters, we get a relatively detailed look into each of their backstories. First up we meet John, Anna’s best friend who has something of a crush on her (and gets excessively needy the more into the book we get), Chris and Lisa, the good-natured and always positive couple, then there is Steph who is navigating the field of a long distance relationship with her girlfriend as well as showing her passion for journalism, and finally Nick, the bad-boy archetype that Anna can’t shake. Each of these characters have their strengths and weaknesses and though I enjoyed some more than others, I felt as a whole that this group of friends was relatively well-rounded in terms of personality traits. The other characters that are prominently displayed in the book are Anna’s father Tony and assistant principal Mr. Savage. As both of them have the majority of their scenes together, they played off of each other wonderfully with Tony being the more nonchalant and caring type while Mr. Savage was the more… err… Savage of the bunch. In all honesty, Mr. Savage was one of the most fascinating characters in the book and added a level of terror I wasn’t expecting. I would love to see a prequel (whether in book or movie form) that dived into Savage’s background to at least understand better how he became the person he is. In all honesty, he’s almost as terrifying as the flesh-eating zombies walking about.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this book was horrifying in terms of scares, as I’ve kind of become numb to the whole zombie invasion, but where I do think the book shines is in its depiction of emotions. The third act of the book actually left me speechless and angry because I realized that throughout the entire novel I was becoming attached to the majority of these characters – whether good or bad. Originally I assumed that this was going to be a fun zombie romp that wasn’t anything more than superficial, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The book has a lot of heart to it and showcases the extent that our friends and family are willing to go to protect us. There were a few gut punch moments that I didn’t see coming, but how our characters reacted to those scenarios, and the effect it had in the long run, was really profound.
What I’m really trying to say is that even if you, like me, are tired by the zombie genre, give this book (and the movie) a fighting chance. It’s a relatively quick read that will have you laughing and crying till the bloody end. Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the film and how the characters are portrayed on screen along with the musical numbers. If you decide to pick up a copy, let us know what you think when you are done reading it, as we would love to know! Until then, here’s to hoping we don’t have to worry about a zombie apocalypse any time soon.