CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 27. . . .March 14, 2014
Awkward, food-obsessed grade seven student Bob’s cozy life is turned upside-down with the arrival at his school of Imre Lazar, an orphaned “survivor” of a nuclear accident that has left him dead, and yet alive. Calling the syndrome “pedes mortuus”, Imre is taken in by the army who are attempting to give him a normal childhood in a new school, all the while studying his condition. After his feats of amazing strength alert the school and the media to his unusual condition, the community erupts in protests against his presence and counter-protests against this “racism.” Bob’s best friend, Evil-O, (“Olive” backwards) becomes Imre’s friend and protector, slowly winning over the conflicted and frightened Bob. When the CBC comes to film a documentary on the three unlikely friends, Bob discovers another secret—Imre has a younger sister, Kato, a real zombie who eats brains—and he has to help the two escape for their own and the community’s safety.
A thoroughly original, quirky, and highly entertaining story, this book is classic Scrimger. Without any trace of earnestness, he turns the story of Imre into an allegory on xenophobia, a touching story of friendship, and a somewhat campy adventure that taps into, and yet subverts, kids’ love of horror and monsters. Bob is an obsessive, unusual and yet thoroughly believable pre-teen, and his narration rings entirely true to his ironic, worldly, cynical, and highly immature nature. His conflicting feelings about Imre play out in an open, natural way. Evil-O, his much more fearless companion, turns the typical boy-girl relationship on its head. But it is Imre who is the best invention, an awkward, deadpan, self-mocking young man who hides great emotional pain while laughing at his own inability to stop his hands from falling off (he re-attaches them with duct tape).
Two very touching scenes are handled deftly by Scrimger who scrubs all sappiness out them: the one above, where Bob tries to get past his initial fear and poor treatment of Imre; and a later scene wherein school bully Calvin confesses to Bob that his older brother Luther aims to burn down the army house where Imre lives. Bob thinks Calvin is telling him because he feels guilty at how he’s treated both Bob and Imre, but Calvin simply says he still thinks Bob’s a loser, he’s still afraid of Imre, but who he really hates is Luther. A tiny glimpse into what might be an abusive home situation, but it is quickly overtaken by the rush to save Imre (and, as it turns out, Kato, his secret baby sister). And everywhere throughout the story is the presence of the media and the protesters, reflecting what young people would likely see as the skewed view of the world adults present.
The book is not without its flaws. Some characters seem to have little purpose—Bob’s teachers, the Foubert kids, his strange friend Gezink—and there isn’t a terribly taut plot structure connecting the army project and Kato, who is described as being a “zombie” as opposed to Imre’s “zomboy”, without really specifying what that might mean in either a scientific or mythological way. Imre saves Bob from a vicious dog attack, yet the neighbor who owns the dog is never taken to task and continues to taunt neighborhood kids with the obviously dangerous animal. Bob nascent romantic feelings for Evil-O seem a bit of a distraction and handled in an awkward way that pales in comparison to the masterful development of Bob and Imre’s difficult friendship.
Still, Zomboy is a highly original and substantial book, and fans of Scrimger will not be disappointed.
R. Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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