Highway Bodies (2019) is a debut novel by Alison Evans that follows the stories of three groups of queer teens as they fight for survival in and around Melbourne as the city becomes overrun by zombies. The actual cause of the zombification is only hinted at – mentions of a food factory out in a remote town – but that mystery really isn’t the focus of the story. Rather, Highway Bodies asks the question: who will you rely on in a zombie apocalypse?
The three groups of teens struggle for survival, having to make decisions about where they should go; if they should look for their families; where they can find food; how they can safely travel and rest; and having to fend off zombies every step of the way, all while dealing with the grief of the people they’ve lost. Although some of the groups start out seeking other survivors, it soon becomes clear that any non-zombie person they don’t know can be as much of a threat, if not more so, than the zombies themselves. This creates an atmosphere of suffocating fight-or-flight kill-or-be-killed situations, because zombies can be relied upon to want one thing: human flesh to devour. But other survivors want other things from them, more complicated, but, as it turns out, just as disturbing.
Each group of teens soon realises that nowhere is safe, and every time they think they’re safe they are proven to be catastrophically wrong. This can be interpreted as a metaphor for the life experiences of queer teens; to always be looking out, always feeling hunted and unsafe, not just from the everyday person (i.e. brainless zombies), but from those who should be allies, in this case other survivors, who are proven again and again to have motives just as repulsive as that of flesh-eating zombies. One group of survivors briefly lives in a camp ruled over by an overzealous heteronormative man who tries to pair two of the protagonists off into hetero relationships, the implication being that they will eventually grow the group by reproducing. Another stranger- survivor comments that the protagonist’s group are all young and strong and could be put to useful work on a farm to harvest food and carry water. Again and again the main characters encounter people who want to do them and their bodies harm, either with mindless violence or by enforcing rules and restrictions that take away their freedom and authentic selves.
Highway Bodies can be seen as a prolonged metaphor for queer teens living in a world that means them harm, and Evans has achieved this very effectively through the bodily disgust and controlling behaviour of zombies and non-ally survivors respectively. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good zombie horror thriller, anyone who needs to understand the perils of living as a queer teen in the world today, or anyone who likes to see their hometown as the setting in a book. I got a kick every time the survivors fled to an outer suburb of Melbourne that I’ve visited!