Kate Grable is a math and science nerd. She wants to be in the medical profession in her future, and she’s been lucky enough to play doctor to the high school football team during their season. Not really a doctor, of course, more like a student trainer and assistant to the coach. Lucky for her, it’s an awesome resume-builder and it lets her hang close to the guy of her dreams, Aaron.
During the course of the season, Kate becomes suspicious of coach, though. It seems like he’s slipping his players some sort of steroids. Which is illegal, of course, and dangerous for the coach (if he gets caught), for the players (it’ll ruin their bodies), and for Kate (a permanent dent on her record and surefire way not to get to med school). Bad as that would be, it’s actually a whole lot worse. Coach hasn’t slipped his players any sort of steroids. He’s slipped them something much more dangerous, something that could change the entire face of this high school for good. And coach himself might have imbibed in this dangerous poison.
When every hunky guy in school suddenly becomes a flesh-eating, mindless, horrifying zombie, well, Kate knows she’s in for the type of experience that might get her into something a little different than a medical school.
Bad Taste in Boys does exactly what I need in a paranormal book: it combines a realistic setting, a driven main character, and funny writing into a story that pushes the limit of the absolutely absurd. See, I don’t usually like paranormal books because they try hard to be serious or to delve into a topic with some sort of deeper layer of meaning. I know not all do, but many do try to make some sort of greater point. The thing is, when I sit down to enjoy a paranormal book, I want something so out there that I’m laughing out loud. I want my mind to not be thinking of something greater or deeper, and fortunately for me, this zombie romp is a comedy of the strange.
Kate is an extremely relatable character. She’s a passionate girl who not only wants to do well in school, but she finds ways to put her passion into practice. She’s not one-sided though; we have the opportunity to see her engaged in friendships and in her family relationships, and we have the chance to see her swooning over Aaron, the boy of her dreams. Kate is smart and savvy, and throughout the course of her interactions with the football team, we see she’s quite a likable character, too. And when things go south — and they go south fast — she uses her brain to concoct a solution. What I think I appreciate about Kate more than anything in this book is that she is not dependent on anyone but herself to solve a problem. Many books, especially mainstream paranormal titles, fall into the boy-saves-girl trope, and Harris’s book avoids this. Even when Kate crushes hard, she never forgets who she is and what her own end goals are.
Bad Taste in Boys is a fast paced read, as the action picks up nearly immediately. I should note that it’s also a bit of a gruesome read in this effect, as the zombie virus causes members of the football team to engage in behavior that leaves some with scabs and leaves some with dismembered body parts.
But here’s the thing: it is really, really funny.
Throughout the course of the story, I found myself laughing out loud more than once. As much as Kate’s a headstrong character, she’s also funny. Her observations about the zombie situation, which could easily become scream-worthy scenes, are alight with humor. It’s no big deal when coach loses her foot and, you know, Kate carries it around. When Kate walks over the dead body of one of the football team’s family members, she could break down and lose everything, but she doesn’t. Instead, she makes some environmental observations that detract from the grim situation and instead, offer a good laugh.
Although I found myself engaged with this story, I had a challenge with the ending of the book. This is a short book — just about 200 pages — and the subplots are what really drew me in. Near the end of the book, readers discover the answers to dozens of questions that arise throughout, including why Kate felt responsible for solving the zombie outbreak, why coach slipped his players this zombie serum in the first place, how the zombie virus could be reversed, and what happens to those responsible for creating this chaos in the first place. When things had a chance to fall into place, it felt a little rushed; I wanted to know more about the consequences of the coach and his provider’s actions. I was extremely curious, too, what the later effects would be on the players and on the school. An extra chapter or two exploring this or perhaps leaking some of these questions a little sooner may have tightened it up for me.
That said, Bad Taste in Boys is a light paranormal read, brimming with laugh-out-loud moments and a lot of zombies. Who hasn’t imagined their high school football team turning into a horde of zombies? Pass this book off to your paranormal fans, as well as those who humorous stories. And naturally, it’s one to add to your ever-growing list of zombie lit, and it’s one that stands out from the crowd for its unique take on how to reverse the disease.
I bought this bad boy.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).