Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows – warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can’t understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.
This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won’t be changed without a fight…
I thought I knew what I was getting when I picked up this book to read it. Sort of a non-YA, Twilight-esque zombie romance, albeit with more humour and tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation.
While this book does have some of the ‘untouchable’ aspects of a relationship between the dead and the undead that we encountered in Twilight, this book is not really a romance. There are deep feelings involved between R and Julie, but this book is about so much more than romance.
The story begins with our unlikely protagonist, R, giving us a run-down on life as a zombie. When we first meet him, he appears to be an unapologetic, flesh-eating zombie. After all, this is his existence now, and just the way things have to be. He shuffles, he grunts, and speaks in monosyllables. What we find underneath all that, is the exact opposite. R is philosophical, witty and is desperately trying to remember and retain any shred of his humanity. He doesn’t want to be what he is.
Out on a hunting expedition, R meets Julie…and he doesn’t want to eat her, he wants to save her. Julie almost immediately sees that there is more to this zombie than meets the eye. After all, she’s still alive. As their friendship grows, things begin to change for R. His hunger for flesh decreases, and he breaks his monosyllabic barrier…but it’s not just him that changes. Other zombies are changing as well…and it’s just the beginning of something miraculous.
‘So, “R”. Why are you keeping me here?’
The question hits me like a surprise slap. I look at the ceiling. I gesture around at the airport in general, towards the distant groans of my fellow Dead. ‘Keep you safe.’
There is silence. She looks at me hard. My eyes retreat.
‘Listen,’ she says. ‘I get that you saved my life back there in the city. And I guess I’m grateful for that. So, yeah. Thanks for saving my life. Or sparing my life. Whatever. But you walked me into this place, I’m sure you could walk me out. So again: why are you keeping me here?’
Her eyes are like hot irons on the side of my face, and I realise I can’t escape. I put a hand on my chest, over my heart. My ‘heart’. Does that pitiful organ still represent anything? It lies motionless in my chest, pumping no blood, serving no purpose, and yet my feelings still seem to originate inside its cold walls. My muted sadness, my vague longing, my rare flickers of joy. They pool in the centre of my chest and seep out from there, diluted and faint, but real.
I press my hand against my heart. Then I reach slowly towards Julie, and press against hers. Somehow, I manage to meet her eyes.
She looks down at my hand, then gives me a dry stare. ‘Are you. Fucking. Kidding me.’
There are so many appealing components to this unlikely tale. The author delves deeply into each side, making us sympathetic and horrified not only for the surviving humans, but for the zombies as well. For some humans, it’s not only about survival…but about finding a way out of this dreary and seemingly hopeless existence in a dying world. We see a side of humanity that is frightening and all too believable. That being said, the relationship building between R and Julie is sweet and even humourous at times, keeping this from being a story merely about a difficult and depressing post-apocalyptic world. Original, funny, sweet, terrifying and poetic. The best read for me this year.