From the moment Imre Lazar steps off the bus at his new school in small-town Dresden, Ontario, Grade 7 student Bob senses there’s something “off” about him. It isn’t until a freak accident involving a runaway piano that the truth is revealed: Imre is a zombie (official diagnosis: pedes mortuus, or “walking dead syndrome”), the lone survivor of a radiation leak in a nearby town. Once news gets out about Imre’s condition, the community quickly divides into pro-Imre and anti-zombie camps, with Bob’s best friend Evil-O (Olive to her mother)
becoming the creepy kid’s main defender and ally (Bob’s mom running a close second).
Author Richard Scrimger makes no attempt to hide the parable here. Even before Imre’s undead state comes to light, the class’s resident mean girl comments on his name: “Such an odd combination of letters,” she said. “It’s so … ethnic. How on Earth do you pronounce it?” Those in the anti-Imre camp are called racists while his supporters espouse the acceptance of other people’s differences.
The approach would be unbearably over the top were it not for Scrimger’s ample use of humour. Bob, a hypochondriac bully-magnet whose main obsessions are food and Evil-O (the unsuspecting object of his affection), is a fabulous narrator reminiscent of Susin Nielsen’s Henry K. Larsen. His mixed feelings about Imre present both sides of the zombie divide, but with a personal twist. Evil-O’s obvious affection for their undead friend is a source of agony, but Bob soon comes to sympathize with Imre’s plight and appreciate his hilariously deadpan personality.
There are a few minor flaws with Zomboy. Bob’s parents constantly snipe at each other, but Scrimger doesn’t explore the relationship or its effects on Bob. Other adult characters, while amusing, teeter on the edge of stereotype. The main fault, however, is the sudden violent turn the story takes near its conclusion, which leaves the reader feeling discombobulated. Scrimger reels the action back into safe territory by the end, but the preceding scenes have the effect of overshadowing the story’s central themes of prejudice and tolerance.