[Book Review] The Zombie Zone (A to Z Mysteries, #26) by Ron Roy

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are excited to vacation in the Louisiana bayou country. But they small village the visit has a scary problem. The villagers tell stories of voodoo and a giant zombie with silver hair who has been digging up graves in the cemetery. Can the zombie be real? The kids will have to brave the zombie zone to unearth the truth.

It's back to the south in the final A to Z Mysteries book when Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose travel to New Orleans to visit Ruth Rose's grandmother, who was last seen in Key West in The Goose's Gold. The epitome of a free-range grandparent and apparently swimming in cash, Gram Hathaway has hired a tour guide to give the kids an authentic look at America's "most unique" city--and its bayous.

While hiking with Jack, the guide, the kids come across a mysterious and ominous sign. "Zombie Zone," it reads, and Jack explains that the area is still steeped in the voodoo religion. The Connecticut kids don't believe in real zombies... but when they reach the bayou town they're visiting that day, they discover that it's being plagued by grave robbery and rumors of the undead. So is this a paranormal explanation for a perfectly mundane crime... or could there be something to the folklore? As it turns out, no. A land developer is preying on the superstition of the extremely poor local population in order to convince them to leave the area.

It's a great send-off for the series, I think. These last two books have been quite multi-cultural in comparison to the majority of the series, which focuses mostly on the upper-middle-class-and-European-American demographic of the U.S., though there are certainly other demographics represented here and there. The Zombie Zone doesn't get very deep into the culture that the mystery's built around--it doesn't, for example, elaborate on what exactly zombies are in voodoo as opposed to pop culture--but nevertheless, it's nice to see the culture showcased for the young children in the audience. And I appreciate that Roy neglects to stress the "otherness" of the bayou citizens. They're clearly poor and living in an entirely different world from mainstream America, but neither the characters nor the narration itself ever treats them as people to be pitied or "saved"; even their religion (characters are briefly seen praying after the grave robberies) is treated as simple fact instead of spectacle. And while the area is, as I said, primarily African American, this is also never used to create dividing lines between characters. In fact, Roy doesn't even mention race in the series--not a single time, as far as I can recall; John Steven Gurney's illustrations clearly define individual character's ethnicity (Southwest Asian, European American, Native American, African American, and Asian American are all seen at various points in the series), but race is never once used to designate anyone as inherently different from the rest of the cast. It's really refreshing, and I definitely think it helps present the minority characters as individuals instead of tokens intended to represent their entire demographic.

Anyway, this marks the end of the A to Z Mysteries series proper, but it's not the last of Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose. If you've gotten to this point in the series and still have a craving for Green Lawn, you can check out the two A to Z Mysteries spin-offs: Calendar Mysteries, which follows the Bradley Pinto, Brian Pinto, Nate Hathaway, and Lucy Armstrong and is intended for a slightly younger audience; and A to Z Mysteries: Super Editions, which continues to follow Dink Duncan, Josh Hathaway, and Ruth Rose Hathaway and is intended for a slightly older audience. Both series are in progress, and over the next few weeks, I'll be reviewing all of the books released so far--and I'm looking forward to whatever else Roy gives us.

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