Title: Highway Bodies
Author: Alison Evans
Genre: YA, horror
Publisher: Echo Publishing
Highway Bodies (2019), a YA thriller by Alison Evans, 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 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 grief for the people they’ve lost. Although some of the groups start out seeking other survivors, it soon becomes clear that non-zombie people they don’t know can be just 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 different things from them, and although their wants are more complicated, they are often 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. Because these characters are not just unsafe from the everyday person (i.e. brainless zombies), but from those who should be allies – in this case other survivors – who are shown again and again to have motives just as repulsive as that of flesh-eating zombies.
Some of the teen protagonists briefly live in a camp ruled over by an overzealous hetero-normative man who tries to pair them off into hetero relationships with other young people in the camp, the implication being that they will eventually grow the group by reproducing. Another stranger comments that the teens 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!