Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Rec - Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I don't tend to read YA. I don't seek it out unless specifically pushed to, because most of the themes explored don't really interest me. When I do read books that are classified as YA, it's usually because my daughter has told me to.

We saw the movie for Warm Bodies on DVD when it came out, but she didn't read the book until this past spring. Then, she thrust it into my hands and said, "Read this!" I didn't want to. We'd already seen the movie. I don't like zombie books. So I stalled.

I wish I hadn't. I haven't been this surprised by a book in a long time.

First of all, it's not YA. I don't care what anyone wants to classify it as. People who are trying to qualify it as a romance or a zombie book are missing the whole point of it, too. It's about the search of who we are and the lengths we'll go to retain the status quo because the whole world is too scary to deal with otherwise. Wrapped up in a tidy zombie package.

But let's get back to that. For those who aren't familiar with the story, it's about R, a zombie who lives at the airport. He's having a bit of an existential crisis, wondering who he was, what they're doing as he and the other zombies make a pseudo life for themselves at the airport. The Boneys, the skeletal zombies who seem to run things, make up families by pushing men and women together, then giving them children to complete the unit. R is a part of this but not, choosing to live inside a plane that he's filled with mementos he's scavenged from the nearby city. 

On an eating run, they corner a group of young people and he eats one of the men, a young guy named Perry. Since they get their victim's memories when they eat the brains, R starts experiencing Perry's life, as well as gaining a new fixation on Perry's girlfriend Julie who is also part of the group. R defends Julie, then smears her with his own blood to mask her scent to take her back to the airport to keep. But for what purpose, he doesn't know, and more, once she's there, they both start looking at the other person differently.

The book has been labeled a Romeo and Juliet/zombie mash-up, which in all honesty it is. The naming conventions (R=Romeo, Julie=Juliet, Perry=Paris, and their friends have the same correlations) are the strongest, but that's where the comparisons fall apart for me. Some people have focused on the romance between Julie and R, but that didn't strike me as nearly as central to the story as R's discovery of himself. He spends over half the book either talking to himself, experiencing Perry's memories, or interacting with a dream Perry inside him. This is about R's journey, not the fact that love somehow "fixes" him.

Plotting is not its strong suit. If you lay it out, not a whole lot happens. But what makes it transcend its stifling labels is the author's voice. Simply put, this might be one of the most beautifully written YA-classified stories that I've ever read. His voice is poetic and visceral, and I caught myself over and over again either gasping or sighing over his prose. It's wrapped in the zombie package, which means there's gore and violence, so if that bothers you, you might not enjoy it as much. I don't mind, so it worked for me.

But it's passages like this that sucked me in early: I dream my necrotic cells shrugging off their lethargy, inflating and lighting up like Christmas deep in my dark core. Am I inventing all this like the beer buzz? A placebo? An optimistic illusion? Either way, I feel the flatline of my existence disrupting, forming heartbeat hills and valleys. 

And this... if these staggering refugees want to help, if they think they see something bigger than a boy chasing a girl, then they can help, and we'll see what happens when we say yes while this rigor mortis world screams no.

There's so many more, I could go on for hours.

If you want to read this because you love romance or zombie books, you might be disappointed. But if you're interested in falling for a zombie in his search to be something other than what he is, I can't recommend this highly enough.