Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Page Count: 239
Key Words: post-apocalyptic, zombies, horror, romance
Goodreads & Amazon

R is not like other zombies, at least not the other zombies that he knows of. He still has full thoughts, desires, and dreams, and he articulates them with slow, stuttering language. Just because he seems to be the most well-thought zombie in his hive doesn't mean that he doesn't have the same basic needs as all other zombies: BRAINS! So when he and his hive break into a pack of humans to feast on their brains, he wasn't expecting to eat the brain of a thoughtful teenaged boy, and he definitely wasn't expecting to create a bond with the teenaged boy's girlfriend Julie. It becomes his new mission to protect her from his fellow zombies, and during his time with her he starts to see that this permanent death sentence he thought he had might not be so permanent after all.
I am dead, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it. I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore. Hardly any of us do. We lose them like car keys, forget them like anniversaries. Mine might have started with an "R," but that's all I have now. It's funny because back when I was alive, I was always forgetting other people's names. My friend "M" says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can't smile, because your lips have rotted off. 
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was my first experience reading a zombie novel. I've seen plenty of zombie movies, but when it came to the books, I didn't think that there would be any sort of interesting narrative when it came to being in the head of a zombie instead of being in the head of someone pursued by zombies. I've read lots of positive reviews of this, though, and a lot of people touted it as being a twist on the usual zombie character. So when I saw this in the library, I had to pick it up and give it a try. I also heard this was slightly more light-hearted than my last read, Love Letters to the Dead and I definitely needed a change of pace to snap me out of my funk.
I let out a gentle groan and inch toward the girl, trying to force kindness into my dull expression. I am not no one. I am a nine-year-old boy, I am a fifteen-year-old boy, I am--
She throws a knife at my head.
The blade sticks straight into the center of my forehead and quivers there. But it has penetrated less than an inch, only grazing my frontal lobe. I pull it out and drop it. I hold out my hands, making soft noises through my lips, but I'm helpless. How do I appear unthreatening when her lover's blood is running down my chin? 
This is definitely a change of pace from the zombie stories we are typically used to hearing. R and the rest of the zombies in America have fallen victims to a plague of some sort, turning them into the Living Dead, and in order to keep themselves alive, they must eat the brains of the Living. The zombies I'm used to seeing are a slow, staggering bunch that can only groan, "brrraiinnsss!" and are relentless with their attacks. Some of R's comrades are this type of groaning, staggering zombies, but R, and his friend M, are able to speak to each other and think real thoughts about things other than brains. I liked R's character. He was thoughtful, and even when he knew that he needed the brains of others to survive, he didn't like having to take someone else's life. He also does something unheard of for zombies to do: he resists his hunger to save and protect Julie, who is very much alive. I was surprised to read how insightful R was, and actually really liked him as a character, which is sometimes hard to do when your narrator is going straight to the throat of a terrified victim.
It frustrates me and fascinates me that we'll never know for sure, that despite the best efforts of historians and scientists and poets, there are some things we'll just never know. What the first song sounded like. How it felt to see the first photograph. Who kissed the first kiss, and if it was any good.
As much as I liked R and the difference of him and zombies that we have come to know, this book ended for me with a lot of unanswered questions. There were also a couple of flaws when it came to world-building and re-creating what people think of when they think of zombies. Things mentioned past this point could be spoilerish! When R meets Julie, he starts to change in a way that all of the zombies and Living could have never imagined. He feels feelings for something that used to be his life source. This change, as charming as it is, has little to no explanation. At first I thought it could be because he ate the brain of Julie's boyfriend, Perry, and when he eats the brain he is able to see Perry's memories, most of which focus around Julie and his adoration of her. Perry's thoughts also creep into R's mind at random times, and R becomes a sort of vessel for Perry's memories and thoughts. Not only was this confusing for R's first-person narrative, but it didn't answer the questions: why Julie? Why Perry? Considering R has been a zombie for a little while, it can be assumed that he has eaten a husband or wife before, but this did not make him fall in love with the other spouse. I didn't know what made Perry and Julie THE ONES that are able to spur this whole change of the way human's view the plague that created the Living Dead. I just wished there was some sort of explanation, or hint of an explanation, that would help us understand why things are suddenly changing after what seems like over a decade of struggle to come up with a solution to beat the plague.
I want to do something impossible. Something astounding and unheard of. I want to scrub the moss off the space shuttle and fly Julie to the moon and colonize it, or float a capsized cruise ship to some distant island where no one will protest us, or just harness the magic that brings me into the brains of the Living and use it to bring Julie into mine, because it's warm in here, it's quiet and lovely, and in here we aren't an absurd juxtaposition, we are perfect.
There is also the potential for a lot of great conflicts and obstacles in Warm Bodies, but unfortunately, our characters are extremely forgiving. More Spoilery Things follow! At the start of R's beautiful relationship with Julie, he is worried about what will happen when and if she finds out that he is the one who killed her boyfriend Perry. He thinks about it here and there throughout the book, and the release for that tension came too late in the novel. I was also expecting this to create a fissure in the perfect harmony of their Zombie-Human relationship, at least a fight of some kind. But when the truth comes to light, it is quite literally shrugged off, which FRUSTRATED ME SO MUCH. I wanted a juicy fight! I wanted her trust in R to be shaken! But no dice. There are also several other moments that could've been heightened dramatically, but instead were also shrugged off, eliminating any conflict from R's immediate life. Instead, a lot of the conflict centered around the rest of the zombies and the Living.
I would like to end it here. How nice if I could edit my own life. If I could halt in the middle of a sentence and put it all to rest in a drawer somewhere, consummate my amnesia and forget all the things that have happened, are happening, and are about to happen. Shut my eyes and go to sleep happy.
But no, "R." No sleep of the innocent. Not for you. Did you forget? You have blood on your hands. On your lips. On your teeth. Smile for the cameras. 
Warm Bodies was definitely a twist on the zombie stories that we all know and have heard of. Our main character R has real thoughts, and is someone we can feel for. He is also a big protector of a Living girl, which is something that is never heard of in other zombie stories. However, I think the author protected our narrator from conflict a little too much, which made some major events in the book seem like no big deal. I also felt left in the dark about the changes that were coming on in this world, and was left wanting more of an explanation for the changes that the zombies were going through.
Have you guys read this one? Seen the movie? Even though the book wasn't my favorite, I would probably watch it if I saw it on TV and see how and if things play out differently!

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