Publication Date: July 10th, 2012
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.
In this frighteningly dark and captivating novel, Lex Thomas locks readers inside a school where kids don’t fight to be popular, they fight to stay alive.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)
I have very mixed feelings about this book... The premise is extremely good, and I found the way the story played out very believable, but I struggled a bit with the execution and some of the content. Let me elaborate...
I will first touch on the brilliant premise. This book was like a modern-day Lord of the Flies that takes place in a locked down school instead of on a deserted island. If something like what happened in this book happened in real life (all the grown-ups suddenly die and an entire HS has to be locked down by the government to prevent the spread of a deadly super-virus carried by only teens), I believe that the kids would behave almost exactly as they did here, and it is scary! Because this book is such an honest prediction, it is violent, gruesome, and utterly horrifying. While some of the kids cling to their morality, most of the others turn into vicious animals, and sadly, it's the most ruthless of the animals that come out on top most of the time. It's survival of the fittest at its most basic level. It's a harsh reality, in a fictional format, and this is where I struggle a bit with the content. I think there are a lot of kids who would read this book, expecting the standard YA dystopian fare, and get something far more raw and disturbing. The Hunger Games has nothing on this book as far as the things kids will do to other kids in the name of survival. What I found more disturbing than what they would do in the name of survival, is what some of the kids were willing to do in the name of power and control over others, and where books like The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies leave a lot to imagination, this book does not. Some of the violence is is described in such detail that several times I had to stop reading for a few minutes in order to get my bearings.
Obviously, you can't have this type of character driven (someone has to commit the violence, right?) story without characters, and I think much of this book's strength is in them. The physical world they were living in was well built, but it was almost like it didn't matter because the characters were really the heart of it. I loved how each tribe- Nerds, Geeks, Varsity, Pretty Ones, Sluts, Skaters, Loners- was a character of its own volition. As far as individual characters go, there were many. David is a great character; he is very human, and while he does try to cling to his morality, he doesn't let it get in the way of his or his brother's survival. He wouldn't kill another person for power or control, but if it's kill or be killed, he doesn't hold back. I really liked him, and I found myself rooting for him the whole way. His brother, Will, on the other hand, is a total douche. I just wanted to grab him and shake him. He was self-absorbed and whiny, not ever really grateful for all his brother was doing to protect him. As for the many other characters that were part of the story, they all played extremely crucial parts, and I felt like they were all well drawn. Sam was an intriguing character, and it was interesting to be in his head from time to time, and Lucy was alright, but definitely not worth the many sacrifices made for her.
Now for the things that bothered me... I did not like how the actual story was executed. It shifted from character to character, most of the time in a 3rd person narrative, but once in awhile, it would shift to 1st person. It don't know if that was intentional or just poor writing, or perhaps it was just the result of being written by a two person writing team, and my copy being an editorial proof, but I found it confusing and frustrating at times. I also struggled a bit with the pacing; it was really good in the first third of the book, then it became repetitive and slow in the middle third. By the final third of the book, it did pick up, but I kind of felt like much of the middle third could have been left out altogether.
Overall, I would say this is great read for the RIGHT reader, and in the end, that wasn't me. I enjoyed it, but there were just too many problems that I had a difficult time getting past, for me to give it a stellar rating. I think HS age boys will devour this book, and be ready for more at the end. Will I read the next book? Probably. I would like to know where the story goes, but if I'm honest, I would say that it won't be at the top of my reading pile.
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Grade Level Recommendation: This is a tough one. The violence is graphic, and horrible things like murder, rape, and torture take place. This is definitely not a book for someone who is sensitive to that type of thing. It is also definitely not a book for the younger end of the YA reading audience. I definitely wouldn't allow my middle schooler to read this, and I'm pretty liberal with her. I would say this book is for ages 15+ (grades 10 and up).