Book Review: Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

Quarantine The LonersQuarantine: The Loners
Lex Thomas
Egmont USA, July 2012
ISBN 978-1-60684-329-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It was just another ordinary day at McKinley High—until a massive explosion devastated the school. When loner David Thorpe tried to help his English teacher to safety, the teacher convulsed and died right in front of him. And that was just the beginning.

 

A year later, McKinley has descended into chaos. All the students are infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. The school is under military quarantine. The teachers are gone. Violent gangs have formed based on high school social cliques. Without a gang, you’re as good as dead. And David has no gang. It’s just him and his little brother, Will, against the whole school.

I have such mixed feelings about this book that I hardly know where to begin. The truth is, there is a lot wrong with it but I still kept right on reading, couldn’t make myself stop. What’s up with that?

For one thing, for a post-disaster scenario, which is pretty nearly always completely unrealistic, this one is way out there in left field. Here you have a school full of teens that have been cordoned off from the outside world. So far, so good. Why this has happened is at first a mystery to the teens and I can buy that, too. What gives me serious pause is what happens within minutes of the teens first realizing something is wrong. Can you imagine our government quarantining an entire school so fast and so competently? Also, why do the adults on the outside cut off all communication with the kids and why do they fail to provide the necessities of life on a regular basis? Well, I suppose these questions are a large part of why I kept reading—I needed to know why even more than what.

In some ways, Quarantine can be compared to Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games, especially in the extreme violence and anarchy that develops and yet…it isn’t really anarchy. The gangs that these 1,000 teens form, based largely on their school hierarchy during normal times, rings true because teens tend to want to belong to groups. The violence is to be expected also when you understand just what they’re up against if they want to survive. The gangs are very distinct and this is one of the aspects of the story I really enjoyed. Each gang has a name and distinguishing colors, each has a leader, each has a responsibility for one or more aspects of life under quarantine, each is feared by the other gangs. There are a couple of gangs that are expectedly in the forefront, particularly the Varsity and the Pretty Ones, but the authors do a great job of building the reader’s empathy for all of them in one way or another.

Another thing the authors do well is come up with details that make the reader really understand the perils these kids face and how they react, such as the way they dispose of bodies and the barter system they develop. Protagonists Will and David are much like most brothers, full of love and antagonism, and the obligatory love triangle with Lucy actually comes about more naturally than in many other young adult novels. I did feel, though, that the extreme hatred Sam has for David is a stretch and Will’s self-centeredness and unwillingness to do his part is a bit much but these elements do add a great deal to the premise. Character development outweighs plot and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

I had issues with the way the government/military respond to the situation and with the behavior of the virus, especially how fast it kills and how it is spread, and these are the absurdities that most bothered me in the construction of the story, along with the difficulty I had tracking the passage of time. On the other hand, the pace of the book is breakneck and I can truly say I was never bored. What goes on with the kids is both disturbing and compelling and that is what made me have to finish. Despite its shortcomings, Quarantine is a thriller you don’t want to miss but, because of the violence and sheer darkness, I’d recommend it for older teens and up.

I must admit I also couldn’t resist a story whose first line is “Someone must have bitten off her nose.” Now that’s a grabber if I ever saw one so I guess I’ll have to read the next book, especially if I want to find out where the cliffhanger in this one is going to take us next.  And I most certainly do.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2012.

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