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Hearts Still Beating

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Gripping, romantic, and impossible to put down, this dark and immersive post-apocalyptic debut novel is about two teen girls who loved each other before the end of the world and before one of them became infected with the virus that turned her into a monster.

Perfect for fans of Krystal Sutherland, Adam Silvera, and the darkly human side of the HBOMax horror-drama, The Last of Us.


Seventeen-year-old Mara is dead—mostly. Infected with a virus that brought the dead back to life and the world to its knees, she wakes up in a facility to learn a treatment for the disease has been found. No longer a Tick, Mara is placed in an experimental resettlement program. But her recovery is complicated by her destination: she’s sent to live with the best friend she hasn’t seen since the world ended—and since their first and only kiss.

Seventeen-year-old Rory is alive—barely. With impaired mobility from an injury and a dead sister, Rory’s nightmares are just as monstrous as the Ticks that turned her former best friend. Even after the Island—one of a handful of surviving communities—rebuilds itself, Rory is prepared for the Ticks to return at any time. She never expected them to come in the form of the only girl she’s ever loved.

As the girls struggle with their pasts and the people they’ve become, and with the Island’s fragile peace in the balance, Rory and Mara must lean on each other to survive—or risk losing the girl they love all over again.
1
Mara
When the doctors ask what I remember, the answer they want to hear is “Nothing.” If only that were true.
Dr. Benitez clears her throat, drawing my attention away from a poster of a lion with the word resilience typed beneath it. The doctor’s hair is slicked back today, and she’s wearing eyeshadow, an odd eggplant color pressed into her lids. I wonder if she has a big date tonight.
I’m not sure if people date anymore. Not that it matters, not to someone like me. My romantic prospects died when I did.
“How much do you remember of your time under the virus’s influence, Mara?” She stands two feet from where I’m propped up on the rusting exam table, her brow creased in concern. I used to think her puckered expression meant something, but in my six months at the facility, I’ve come to understand Dr. Benitez defaults to anxiety the way I default to indifference.
We all had to find our own coping methods when the world ended. Some of us hardened. Some cracked. Some shattered.
I haven’t figured out which applies to me yet. I didn’t think I’d have to. I thought my time was up the moment the infected man closed his teeth around my wrist.
How much do you remember?
I shake my head. Speech was a mountain to climb in the beginning, the phrases and definitions unearthing themselves and clawing back to my tongue, so I slid into silence for my first month. It’s become another default.
Dr. Benitez purses her lips, but she doesn’t question me. I can’t imagine I’m the first person between these walls to lie. Every single room in this building harbors monsters. Monsters with stories and secrets. Three hundred of us relearning humanity.
My heart beats on a semiregular basis and my lungs are teaching themselves to take in consistent breaths, but none of it matters.
A nasty scar traces down the doctor’s neck from an old wound. The outline of a tranquilizer gun, tucked against her hip, is visible underneath her faded lab coat. I don’t blame her for taking precautions. I don’t trust myself, either, tossed back into this bright, loud, overwhelming world.
She jots something onto her cerulean plastic clipboard. “Dyebucetin varies in its effectiveness in the reparation of cells in the cerebral cortex. It’ll take time.”
Dr. Benitez isn’t sure if the treatment will bring me back to life. For all the doctors know, the Altered might drop dead—­really dead—­one day, or grow third arms, or lose all our extremities. The last two are more my illogical fear than the doctors’, but I used to think the living dead were illogical, and then I became one.
“And what about the nightmares?” she asks.
I grind my teeth. Admitting to the night terrors that have plagued me since I woke to my third life was an early day’s mistake. Memories of the creature I was when the virus hijacked my body and the girl I was before.
What do I remember?
Jeans rolled up to asphalt-­torn knees and four legs distorted by the pool water. The image pulses with the kick of her feet. She complains her eyes are muddy and boring, and if I were braver, I’d tell her how the sun pulls out flecks of gold and auburn in her irises; I’d tell her looking into them is like drowning. But I am not brave.
“Stopped,” I lie. “Sweet dreams on this end.”
“Please,” the man says, and I know the word used to mean something, but I’ve long stopped caring. His garbled screams are a quiet hum behind his heartbeat and the blood pumping in his veins, warm and alive.
I take his skull between my hands, slamming down, down, down, until he stops screaming.
★ "The complexity of the worldbuilding combined with the depiction of the best and worst of humanity are on par with themes from The Last of Us show and games, proving that the post-apocalyptic YA genre is not dead—it’s just undead. " BCCB (starred review)

"This stunning debut will rip your heart out... and eat it. A gut punch of a romance set in an immersive post-apocalyptic backdrop, Hearts Still Beating will sink its teeth into you and never let you go." —Jennifer Dugan, author of The Last Girls Standing

"The sapphic zombie story I’ve been salivating for! Infectious storytelling and riveting action with a tender and powerful love story at the beating heart. I absolutely devoured this book." —Leslie Vedder, bestselling author of The Bone Spindle trilogy

"At turns brutal and beautiful, Hearts Still Beating is a riveting exploration of love and what it means to be human in a crumbling, impossible world." —Jen St. Jude, author of If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come

"[An] affecting, adrenaline-filled debut…escalating stakes, nuanced plotting, and a visceral first-person-present narrative that alternates between the emotionally complex protagonists’ POVs combine for a gratifying read." —Publishers Weekly

"[An] original, adventure-filled love story…. A richly realized and distinctive queer zombie romance." Kirkus Reviews

"[P]erfect for fans of The Last of Us looking for a queer take on the classic zombie story." Booklist

"A riveting, unique, and delightfully queer adventure." –SLJ

Brooke Archer graduated from Chapman University with a BFA in Creative Writing and has interned with Entity Magazine in LA. When she’s not writing, she works at a doggy daycare in San Diego. Find her on twitter: @abrookeworm. And on Instagram: @broookearcher View titles by Brooke Archer

About

Gripping, romantic, and impossible to put down, this dark and immersive post-apocalyptic debut novel is about two teen girls who loved each other before the end of the world and before one of them became infected with the virus that turned her into a monster.

Perfect for fans of Krystal Sutherland, Adam Silvera, and the darkly human side of the HBOMax horror-drama, The Last of Us.


Seventeen-year-old Mara is dead—mostly. Infected with a virus that brought the dead back to life and the world to its knees, she wakes up in a facility to learn a treatment for the disease has been found. No longer a Tick, Mara is placed in an experimental resettlement program. But her recovery is complicated by her destination: she’s sent to live with the best friend she hasn’t seen since the world ended—and since their first and only kiss.

Seventeen-year-old Rory is alive—barely. With impaired mobility from an injury and a dead sister, Rory’s nightmares are just as monstrous as the Ticks that turned her former best friend. Even after the Island—one of a handful of surviving communities—rebuilds itself, Rory is prepared for the Ticks to return at any time. She never expected them to come in the form of the only girl she’s ever loved.

As the girls struggle with their pasts and the people they’ve become, and with the Island’s fragile peace in the balance, Rory and Mara must lean on each other to survive—or risk losing the girl they love all over again.

Excerpt

1
Mara
When the doctors ask what I remember, the answer they want to hear is “Nothing.” If only that were true.
Dr. Benitez clears her throat, drawing my attention away from a poster of a lion with the word resilience typed beneath it. The doctor’s hair is slicked back today, and she’s wearing eyeshadow, an odd eggplant color pressed into her lids. I wonder if she has a big date tonight.
I’m not sure if people date anymore. Not that it matters, not to someone like me. My romantic prospects died when I did.
“How much do you remember of your time under the virus’s influence, Mara?” She stands two feet from where I’m propped up on the rusting exam table, her brow creased in concern. I used to think her puckered expression meant something, but in my six months at the facility, I’ve come to understand Dr. Benitez defaults to anxiety the way I default to indifference.
We all had to find our own coping methods when the world ended. Some of us hardened. Some cracked. Some shattered.
I haven’t figured out which applies to me yet. I didn’t think I’d have to. I thought my time was up the moment the infected man closed his teeth around my wrist.
How much do you remember?
I shake my head. Speech was a mountain to climb in the beginning, the phrases and definitions unearthing themselves and clawing back to my tongue, so I slid into silence for my first month. It’s become another default.
Dr. Benitez purses her lips, but she doesn’t question me. I can’t imagine I’m the first person between these walls to lie. Every single room in this building harbors monsters. Monsters with stories and secrets. Three hundred of us relearning humanity.
My heart beats on a semiregular basis and my lungs are teaching themselves to take in consistent breaths, but none of it matters.
A nasty scar traces down the doctor’s neck from an old wound. The outline of a tranquilizer gun, tucked against her hip, is visible underneath her faded lab coat. I don’t blame her for taking precautions. I don’t trust myself, either, tossed back into this bright, loud, overwhelming world.
She jots something onto her cerulean plastic clipboard. “Dyebucetin varies in its effectiveness in the reparation of cells in the cerebral cortex. It’ll take time.”
Dr. Benitez isn’t sure if the treatment will bring me back to life. For all the doctors know, the Altered might drop dead—­really dead—­one day, or grow third arms, or lose all our extremities. The last two are more my illogical fear than the doctors’, but I used to think the living dead were illogical, and then I became one.
“And what about the nightmares?” she asks.
I grind my teeth. Admitting to the night terrors that have plagued me since I woke to my third life was an early day’s mistake. Memories of the creature I was when the virus hijacked my body and the girl I was before.
What do I remember?
Jeans rolled up to asphalt-­torn knees and four legs distorted by the pool water. The image pulses with the kick of her feet. She complains her eyes are muddy and boring, and if I were braver, I’d tell her how the sun pulls out flecks of gold and auburn in her irises; I’d tell her looking into them is like drowning. But I am not brave.
“Stopped,” I lie. “Sweet dreams on this end.”
“Please,” the man says, and I know the word used to mean something, but I’ve long stopped caring. His garbled screams are a quiet hum behind his heartbeat and the blood pumping in his veins, warm and alive.
I take his skull between my hands, slamming down, down, down, until he stops screaming.

Reviews

★ "The complexity of the worldbuilding combined with the depiction of the best and worst of humanity are on par with themes from The Last of Us show and games, proving that the post-apocalyptic YA genre is not dead—it’s just undead. " BCCB (starred review)

"This stunning debut will rip your heart out... and eat it. A gut punch of a romance set in an immersive post-apocalyptic backdrop, Hearts Still Beating will sink its teeth into you and never let you go." —Jennifer Dugan, author of The Last Girls Standing

"The sapphic zombie story I’ve been salivating for! Infectious storytelling and riveting action with a tender and powerful love story at the beating heart. I absolutely devoured this book." —Leslie Vedder, bestselling author of The Bone Spindle trilogy

"At turns brutal and beautiful, Hearts Still Beating is a riveting exploration of love and what it means to be human in a crumbling, impossible world." —Jen St. Jude, author of If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come

"[An] affecting, adrenaline-filled debut…escalating stakes, nuanced plotting, and a visceral first-person-present narrative that alternates between the emotionally complex protagonists’ POVs combine for a gratifying read." —Publishers Weekly

"[An] original, adventure-filled love story…. A richly realized and distinctive queer zombie romance." Kirkus Reviews

"[P]erfect for fans of The Last of Us looking for a queer take on the classic zombie story." Booklist

"A riveting, unique, and delightfully queer adventure." –SLJ

Author

Brooke Archer graduated from Chapman University with a BFA in Creative Writing and has interned with Entity Magazine in LA. When she’s not writing, she works at a doggy daycare in San Diego. Find her on twitter: @abrookeworm. And on Instagram: @broookearcher View titles by Brooke Archer