Hearts Still Beating / Brooke Archer / Book Review


Mara knows she shouldn't be alive. In fact, she isn't alive. She's a Tick... or at least she used to be. She can still feel the virus living in her, but it hasn't been in control since she woke in the facility. Since she started taking the treatments. And now they want to send her back into the world again as part of a resettlement program.

Sometimes Rory feels like she's dead, but she knows she isn't. Somehow, she's survived when so many others haven't. Her baby sister. Her best friend... Living on an island far from the infested mainland, Rory still doesn't feel safe. Any day, things could take a turn for the worst. Especially now that Ticks have landed on their shore. Rory doesn't care what the mainland government says. "Cured" or not, they're still Ticks. Even if one of them used to be your best friend.

Rory isn't the only one on the island wary of the newcomers. And not everybody in power is happy about this resettlement program. In a world where things can go bad in a moment, some people feel like they need to take control back into their own hands... even if it means getting rid of the "Ticks" once and for all.



Whoever wrote the tagline on this cover should be fired. Because "The world ended. Love did not." doesn't in any way encapsulate this book. I loved this book. It's dark. It's complex. And it's not at all schmaltzy. This is a book about hard characters learning to be human again in a world of impossible choices, and I love that.


Disability Nobody's getting out of the zombie apocalypse unscathed, and Brooke Archer isn't afraid of that. These characters bear the scars of their survival. Rory's leg was badly injured long ago, and she didn't just heal from that. She doesn't walk well. And Mara, our cured zombie, hasn't healed back up. She's missing pieces of herself--including several fingers--and the others like her aren't anymore "whole" than she is. This apocalypse has left scars, and people are still healing. And people are learning to live with their new reality, missing limbs and broken body parts included. It isn't an airbrushed apocalypse, and I appreciate that Brooke Archer isn't afraid to represent physical disability like so many YA authors are.

Splashes of Gore It can be so hard to find a YA book that balances gore, but Archer has managed it here. A zombie apocalypse can't come without gore, and so blood splashes these pages... but in a way that isn't too much. Most readers will be able to handle this gore level, and I appreciate that. This book doesn't hold back, but it toes just the right line to be open to a lot of YA readers, even those on the younger end of the scale.

Slow Softening These characters are all very hard. They've had to be, to survive this long into the apocalypse. So this isn't a book about soft characters becoming harder as they make hard decisions. It's a book about characters who have already made those hard decisions learning, slowly, to be human again--to let themselves feel things, to get invested, and to want more from life.


The one major disappointment for me was Carter, Mara's sister. Carter had so much potential to be an interesting, complex character, and that potential doesn't really materialize. Obviously, Brooke Archer had other priorities, and I don't think it is ultimately to the detriment of this book that Carter is an underutilized character. But I do think the book could have been much, much better if Carter had been utilized more. Underutilized

I can get why it would be hard, hard, hard to forgive a "cured" zombie. It would be hard to trust anyone with a deadly (to you, personally) virus lurking inside them, after all. But the anger these populations harbor toward the zombies in general doesn't make sense, because that anger feels so, so personal. This felt like a personal vendetta instead of, you know, anger at the fact that people you know became zombies and tried to eat you. It's not like anyone in this world chose to become a zombie, so why did it all feel so vehement, so motivated, so personal? Too Personal

I get keeping your distance from former zombies. This "cure" still feels very new and very experimental. How does contagion work, exactly? Well, people know... and they don't quite know. And I appreciate that. So the thing that gets me, then, is that some of these characters, once they get over their initial aversion to being in the same room as former zombies, aren't afraid to interact with zombies on a close, personal level. There's a whole large gap between "can't be in the same room with" and "willing to touch," and that gap isn't really addressed. In a world where I don't really know how contagious somebody might be, I feel like I'd be wary of holding hands (and doing more than holding hands), even if I'm not afraid of being in the same room as them. Some pretty smart characters were really out here throwing caution to the wind, and that doesn't feel quite right to me--at least not without weighing the risks first, right? Hello? Contagion?



Fans of Kellie Sheridan's Mortality will appreciate this insider look at the zombie apocalypse. Those who loved Em Garner's Contaminated will like this new messy resettlement scheme.


Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Date: April 2, 2024
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


  1. You had me at zombie apocalypse! ;D

  2. I do enjoy zombie books! End of the world scenarios call to me! This sounds like an original take on the usual zombie story with zombies able to be cured. I'll have to look into this one.

  3. How does the book's zombie cure account for necrosis of the zombified body and brain? Surely, it you wait more than a few days to give someone the cure, they'd be so badly brain dead and their bodies rotted that coming back would be inhumane

    1. These zombies aren't necessarily dead in the traditional sense--their hearts are still beating, as per the title, and so "zombie" is more or less of a shorthand (and also a misrecognition from the beginning of the apocalypse, where people did think they were more traditionally dead zombies). The zombie virus here doesn't outright kill people, which is how some of them are curable, but not all of these zombies can be cured. A lot of the zombie bodies are too badly damaged, wounded, and necrotic from infection to benefit from any sort of cure. Only the recently turned or well-preserved can benefit.

  4. Not my preferred genre but I loved your review!

  5. yeah I would think that being scared of going to close contact would take some time

  6. I am not a big zombie or apocalyptic reader, but I am glad you enjoyed this one.

  7. What an interesting premise. I like this type of 'zombie' where they were never really dead and can be cured.

  8. I am not really a zombie fan but I am glad you enjoyed the book!

  9. I like how the author balances the gore, especially in a setting like a zombie apocalypse. Great review!

  10. I'm not a big zombie fan, but I do think this is a very intriguing premise!


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