R is a zombie who is facing an existential crisis. Despite not being able to articulate much, he has a rich inner thought process in which he muses on his life. Even though he is one of the Dead, R believes there must be some greater purpose to him still walking around, and longs for something more out of his existence than merely lumbering around the old airport inhabited by him and his fellow zombies. One day, R goes hunting with a group of zombies, and they come upon a salvage team for the Living. A bloody battle ensues in which most of the humans are killed. R himself kills and eats the brain of a young man named Perry who was a security officer for the Living. In the past, when R ate human brains, he would receive brief images of that person's life, but nothing like what he experiences when he consumes Perry's brain. Instantly, he is inundated not only with "movies" that show him Perry's past, but also the young man's feelings for a girl named, Julie, who happens to be in the building, hiding in a corner, trying to avoid being eaten. R immediately feels contrite for what he's done and views Julie as someone to protect, not someone to eat. He takes her back to the airport with him, and slowly, they develop a tentative friendship. Eventually, Julie must return to the Living, but not before R realizes that something within him is fundamentally changing. Some of the other members of his hive seem to be changing too. The knowledge that these changes are somehow linked to Julie and their budding relationship place them on a hopeful path toward discovering a cure for the plague that created the zombies, but their lives are in danger from those on both sides whose hatred runs so deep, they don't want a cure to be found.
Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human survival against a zombie horde, except in this case, the main character and first-person narrator is one of the zombies. Said zombie is an existential philosopher who is trying to discern his reason for living (or being undead as the case may be). All of this is couched in a love story, although I hesitate to classify it as romance like many other readers do. It just simply isn't written in the style of romance, nor are the emotions as palpable as they are in most romance novels. However, I will certainly allow that love is a driving force in the story and without it there couldn't have been the happy ending that is classic to romances.
In my opinion, what makes this story so unique is it's protagonist, a zombie simply known as R. He can no longer remember the name he had when he was one of the Living, but he recalls the first letter being R. He spends his days in an often stupefied state at the old airport which is inhabited by his hive, lumbering around and groaning. Despite his outward appearance and actions, R has a rich inner thought life in which he analyzes his existence as a zombie. At his heart, R is a philosopher, but even though he can ruminate on the deeper meaning of life and death, he cannot remember enough human speech to verbalize much of what he's thinking, and even if he could, there is no one around who would care. I liked that R exhibited an unusual sense of morality for a creature such as himself. Although his "wild nature" drives him to hunt humans, he's not entirely comfortable with doing it. He's also a collector of human artifacts, which I saw as a way for him to remain linked to his humanity. Something inside R begins to fundamentally change the day he goes hunting and eats the brain of a young security officer named Perry. R promptly starts feeling guilty about this, because through consuming the scrumptious morsel, he becomes privy to all of Perry's thoughts and memories. Some of his most compelling memories are of his time with a girl named Julie. Essentially living vicariously through Perry's memories, R decides that Julie, who was present when Perry and most of the other members of her salvage crew were killed, is not someone to be eaten, but someone to be protected. He takes her back to the airport with him, and she becomes the first person he has ever really tried to communicate with since being turned zombie. Together, they embark on an adventure in which they must try to figure out why R's interactions with Julie have begun to change him, why some of those changes seem to be transferring to other zombies in his hive, and whether they might be able to stop or even reverse the effects of the plague that made the zombies.
Julie is the main female character, but we only see her through R's eyes. Because of this, there were times when I felt like something was missing. There wasn't quite sufficient explanation about who she was as a person and her motivations for doing certain things. She's had a pretty rough life in which she had to grow up fast in a world that was crumbling around her. She's a brave spitfire who doesn't really take any grief from anyone, and she has a curious nature too. This may be part of why she's so open toward R almost from the start. She sees that he's different from other zombies she's encountered, and after a short period of fear, she becomes almost blasé about being friends with him. This is where being privy to her thoughts would have helped me to understand her motives better, but as I read further and learned more about her life, my understanding of her character gradually became clearer.
There are a few secondary characters who play significant roles. Perry, despite being dead, lives on in R. The way in which he begins communicating with R reminded me somewhat of the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. Perry was an intriguing character who appeared to be a rather doom and gloom person. He had essentially decided his life was all but over anyway and that he probably wouldn't live much longer. I think I understood what fueled this attitude in him, but again, like with Julie, it would have been nice to know a little more about him. Perry, in effect, becomes R's conscience, driving him to seek more from life. Julie's best friend, Nora, is another kick-butt girl who doesn't take any crap. R's zombie friend, M, also recognizes when things begin to change and helps lead the revolt. Then there is Julie's father, the general in charge of the human security forces, who unfortunately has become so blinded by his own hatred for the zombies, he won't listen to reason when Julie tries to tell him that she thinks she may have found a way to start curing them. Luckily, his second in command and Julie's surrogate grandfather, Rosso, sees what his friend doesn't.
It appears that one of the major genre categories for Warm Bodies is young adult fiction which makes sense given the age of the protagonists. Although their ages aren't outright specified, it is implied that Julie, Perry and Nora are still teenagers, but in many ways they act older, probably due to their circumstances. No one really knows how old R is, but there is some speculation that he was probably only in his twenties when he was turned. Given the young adult classification, there is some content in the book to which parents might object. For starters, there is quite a bit of language, including frequent uses of the f-word. Given that most of the characters appear to be teenagers, there is also some underage drinking going on. Sex is more talked about than actually described, but there is some mature content in that respect. Some of the things that occur: R briefly describes zombie sex which is basically a poor imitation of human sex, a character watches porn, a character's arousal is implied, a character tells of having prostituted herself at the age of thirteen, and a boyfriend and girlfriend are mentioned to have made love several times. When looked at in perspective, none of these things, language, drinking or sex, are terribly surprising though, given the rough nature of the post-apocalyptic setting in which people are struggling for day to day survival and social niceties have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Of course, last but not least is the violence and gore. More than once the zombies go on hunting raids, looking for humans to eat, and sometimes, the consumption of human flesh is described. At times, it made me a little squeamish, but overall, I didn't think it was overly graphic. There are some good messages for young people here too about standing up for what's right, looking for common ground to solve differences, not giving up even though things seem hopeless, and the fact that love can heal a multitude of hurts. Overall though, given the content and the philosophical nature of the book which might be difficult for younger readers to understand anyway, I would only feel comfortable recommending it to readers sixteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by any of the things I mentioned.
In Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion has crafted a very unusual story that was an enjoyable read. I liked the world-building here, and he described everything in a way that was easy to envision. He's also a master of metaphor. Not only is he clever with a turn of phrase, but the entire story becomes a metaphor for hate, avarice and a plethora of other sins, a morality tale of sorts. While it was a very well put together story, I wouldn't say it was perfect. In addition to some character motivations being a bit murky as I mentioned earlier, the pacing was a little slow in places, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting filled with zombies. This novel is written in present-tense which I think was appropriate, but the author has a tendency to frequently use present perfect tense when I thought simple present tense would have given the narrative more punch and a greater sense of immediacy. Despite me zoning out a little during the earlier parts of the book, the ending was pretty action-packed, keeping me on the edge of my seat. For this reason and because of the delightful oddity of the story, I decided it was worthy of keeper status. While Warm Bodies is a self-contained story, it does leave some room for a continuation which it appears Mr. Marion is working on as we speak. There are also some short stories he wrote which are set in the same world and star the same characters. I'll be looking forward to checking those out while waiting for the next installment in the series.
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