No one is really sure how it started. Random attacks. Censored news reports. Curfews and evacuations. The internet stopping. And then there’s Rhea and Jojo’s mother going missing. Band members Dee, Poppy, Zufan, and Jack’s creative retreat cut short by power outages. And an unnamed teen facing down her own family, who are literally about to tear out her throat. Welcome to the post-apocalyptic Victoria of Alison Evans’ Highway Bodies.
The second novel from Evans, Highway Bodies, features a ferociously diverse cast of teenagers at its core, few of whom sit comfortably at the intersection of straight and cisgender. Some are accepted by their families, some are not. Some have found solace with like-minded people online, while others haven’t quite figured out what labels they’re going to use, if any. And just when things are starting to fall into place for some of them, along come the zombies.
There’s much to be said for representation and giving young people across all spectrums access to media that lets them see themselves. There’s even more to be said for letting them see themselves as normal – not as tortured teens or social outcasts, or as the saviours of those with more archaic views, and Evans has done just that with Highway Bodies. That many of these kids have come from hostile backgrounds is apparent, but there’s new strengths to be discovered, new bonds to be formed. Hell, a new world to adjust to. Introductions are made, pronouns are nailed down, but then it’s time to get on with more important things – y’know, like staying alive.
With that in mind, Highway Bodies does function fantastically as a zombie survival novel. Evans embraces the genre with enthusiasm, with their cast encountering plenty of the old favourite tropes – there’s lots of abandoned highways, buildings you just know they shouldn’t go into, dodgy looking survivors, and First Kills to enjoy here!
The book does slip into repetitiveness here and there – new locations, new zombies, new nasty grown-ups – but that’s rather the nature of the apocalyptic beast. I’m honestly pretty sure that’s all The Walking Deadhas being doing for years! But its fast pace and stellar action sequences more than make up for the familiar set-ups, and there’s a wonderful warmth to the interactions between the characters, as they shift from suspicious, to grudgingly respectful, to found family.
Highway Bodies warms hearts as often as it slits throats, telling a story driven by equal parts love, acceptance, and lots of zombies. Every inch the horror story, Alison Evans has injected new (after)life into the genre, with their diverse cast and wonderful writing. This is a unique slice of Australian YA, and it comes highly recommended.