4 out of 5 stars
Quotes: “Nora, this is R. R . . . Nora.” Nora stares at me like I’m Sasquatch, the Chupacabra, maybe a unicorn. “Um . . . nice to meet you . . . R.”
For Readers Who:
(1) Have read Romeo and Juliet. Warm Bodies is a reworking of my least favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. Zombies and Shakespeare? Trust me. It works.
(2) Have the patience to ponder deep metaphysical questions. Although the book was made into a pretty awesome movie, the novel explores themes that I don’t think most teenagers would really understand. Quite honestly, I think I need to re-read it to fully comprehend what the book was doing because there were some big picture, “what is life?,” “why are we here?” questions into which the book delved.
I did not anticipate the kind of book that this was going to be. I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. I’m not a big zombie fan, but I found the humor of the film really endearing so I gave the book a chance.
I admit that the book is funny, but it is also a whirlwind existential journey. Marion rewrites Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet within the framework of a zombie apocalypse. The zombie “R” (he can’t remember anything more of his name) falls in love with the human Julie. Yes, Marion could have been more subtle with the choice of names. We get it: R and Julie are stand ins for Romeo and Juliet.
R and Julie are “star-cross’d lovers” because, well, he’s dead, she’s not, and both of their kind wants to kills the other. Sounds familiar, right? We could just call one side the Montagues and the other side the Capulets. Where Marion breaks with Shakespeare is in his portrayal of death. What makes Romeo and Juliet my least favorite Shakespearean play is that the deaths of the two teenagers “solved” all their families’ problems. This is from the Prologue of the play:
“A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove…”
Marion takes the opposite approach to life and death: what if dying is the problem and living is the solution? Both R and Julie’s worlds are devoid of life. R, obviously, is a zombie, but Julie and the other uninfected humans live jammed into a football stadium, which R refers to as nothing more than an “ossuary” (a building which holds the remains of the dead).
Unlike Romeo and Juliet, and Julie’s boyfriend Perry (who seeks out death early in the book because he no longer sees the point in living), R and Julie want to live. Marion rewrites Shakespeare’s play, revising it from a romantic epic of two lovers’ deaths, to a celebration of the redemptive power of life and of love.
If Shakespeare would have shared Marion’s approach to life and love, there may have been a chance that I would not have loathed Romeo and Juliet when I was first assigned to read it at 14. Although teenagers will likely still enjoy Warm Bodies (it is, after all, still a zombie romance), older readers who take the time to understand the literary parallels and philosophical questions will be those who will get the most out of this book.