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Book Review: Contaiminated by Em Garner

“They keep them in cages.  The unclaimed. Long rows of narrow, filthy cages lined up along dark corridors lit by bare, hanging bulbs. It’s a harsh, burning smell that hurts the inside of my nose, but it’s better than the reek that wafts up from underneath the odor of cleanser. That smell’s something raw and meaty and moist, something sick.  Like dirty wounds.  Blood and other things.” – opening paragraph 

Since we are already talking about viruses in Quarantine and have heard from Contaminated author Em Garner earlier today, let’s actually talk about Contaminated, another book that is about a virus, but it so much more.

It has been two years since a diet drink with genetically modified ingredients started to contaminate people, causing them to become living yet zombie like creatures with a violent streak that puts all of humanity at risk.  The unclaimed, those who have been infected and no one knows what to do with them, are placed in kennels until either a family members claims them or a certain time period passes and they are given what is known as Mercy Mode.  It is in a kennel that 17-year-old Velvet finds her mother.  After bringing her “connie” (short for contaminated) mother home to live with her and her 10-year-old sister, Velvet’s life begins spiraling even further out of control.  They are facing eviction, she finds herself parenting her, her sister and her infected mother, her boyfriend has abandoned her, and she can’t really get her schoolwork done.  And just when thing look hopeful, the world as they have come to know it changes once again, setting us up for the next book in the series.

Contaminated is a truly unique take on the modern day zombie craze.  These “zombies” aren’t dead but
infected, yet they still pose a very deadly risk to the world.  And this world is a very much modern day world.  But the most unique thing about Contaminated is that it is an allegory for all the children out there struggling in the modern day world trying to hold their families and lives together in the face of extreme challenges like poverty, neglect, or parental illness.  So many readers will be able to identify with this story.  And while I have bemoaned several times this year how there was a preponderance of rich kids dominating ya lit and asking where the teens who were barely holding it together were, I never thought I would find my answer in such an interesting premise.  And that is the most glorious thing about this book; it is the story of every latch key, poverty, struggling teen told with compassion and wisdom under the veil of a “zombie” story.

Contaminated also raises interesting questions about how we treat the outliers among us, the sick.  And of course there are lots of interesting discussions to be had about science and the limits of what we know, how what we think we know can change, and the role and reach of our government in the time of a crisis.  It’s really a very discussable and thought provoking book.

Velvet is a compassionate character, a young lady forced into adulthood way too early, like so many teens are.  Your heart breaks for her. She is strong, fierce, compassionate, wise and yet, a struggling, vulnerable teenage girl.  She is both realistic and an excellent role model.  There are are several awesome supporting characters, including a kind adult and her teenage son, who provides moral support and smooches.

“I’m anxious and tired and stressed; I have to get home to make sure Opal has her dinner, and I’d like to have some time to watch some terrible television after I’ve finished my homework.  I might even like to try to catch a conversation with Tony before I go to bed.  He complains I don’t have enough time for him, and even though I think he should understand, I know he’s right. And I know that although I don’t need him, I wan him.  I don’t want him to find someone else, a girl who will give him all her attention, a girl who doesn’t have so much else to do.” – page 5

Contaminated is a very interesting and accessible read.  Great to pair with The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe or the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry. It is less violent than many of the zombie novels out there, though it does have its fair share of tense moments to remind you what is at stake, and is safe for younger YAs while still being engaging for older YAs.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  Remember, this is not technically a zombie novel but will sit well with those readers.  In many ways, it reminds of Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey if the mom were not an alcoholic but zombie virus infected mom, though it is not told in journal format.  So multi-layered and can be read in many ways by many different types of readers.  Readers looking for intense action and violence should stick with the Quarantine series, but readers willing to go below the surface will relish Contaminated.

Contaminated by Em Garner.  July 2013 from Egmont USA.  ISBN: 978-1-60684-354-3.

Book Review: Quarantine 2: The Saints by Lex Thomas (reviewed by Chris Dahl)

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” is a line from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.  If we are inexplicably trying to find the right lyric from a Who song to describe the new Quarantine book, it’s either that or “It’s only teenage wasteland,” from Baba O’Riley.  I kept recalling both of those songs while reading Quarantine: The Saints, book 2 in the Quarantine series by Lex Thomas.  Or as I like to call it, “Teens Behaving Badly.”
                I’ll freely admit that I could barely recollect anything that took place in the first book and therefore I spent some time trying to re-familiarize myself with the characters.  I did, however, remember that brothers David and Will had managed to form a formidable gang out of dozens of rag-tag, unwanted, ill-fitted students, called The Loners.  With the protection and camaraderie of the gang, The Loners were able to claim food, supplies, and living space in the very nearly destroyed hallways of McKinley High School.
                For those of you who may need or want to be caught up to speed, allow me to give you a quick recap.  On Will’s first day of his freshman year at McKinley High School, he and older brother David, quarterback of the football team, witness the deaths of all teachers and faculty on campus and are soon quarantined in the school by military forces.  The explanation being that all teens going through puberty carry a virus that is deadly to all pre- and post-pubescent people and in the hopes of research and possibly curing this virus, the teens will be locked in the school until “graduation”, a day when the student’s puberty is nearing completion and they are no longer a threat to the outside world.  The students soon form gangs, alliances, enemies, etc.  Needless to say, it becomes a debauched mess of sex and violence. Read our 5 star The Loners book review for more information.
                The story pretty much remains the same throughout The Saints.  However, David is gone and, lacking his leadership, The Loners begin to defect to other gangs, despite Will’s best efforts to rally the troops.  Soon Will finds himself without a gang and, with no way to protect himself or fight for supplies, he becomes an easy target. This is a fight for survival and superiority inside the walls of a high school in a way you have never seen before.
               The second book closely resembles the first book, with new characters added and the menacing roles taken over by new faces.  It’s a PG-13 book, but only just.  The language, sex, and violence is unlike anything I’ve read in a YA novel before.  Think of a modern day Lord of the Flies.  And hey, there is even a wild pig!
The story starts off well and then the action tapers off considerably in the middle as characters reassess their loyalties and despots are overthrown.  The last third of the book is where the action is and the ending is well-executed, though perhaps slightly foreseeable.  Overall, the second installment didn’t grip me the way the first did but if you’ve read the first book in the series and are familiar with the characters, the situation they find themselves in, and are ready to live with them in the dingy halls of McKinley High School again for a little while, then go for it.  You will certainly be shocked by what people are are capable of, and like Lords of the Flies, that really is the one of the points of the series.

Daniel Kraus calls this “the darkest series going” in a starred review. (Booklist May 1, 2013).

Win a Signed Copy of Guitar Notes AND a Luna Guitar!!!!

So, back in August, Karen wrote about her love for Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.  It was so wonderful, it made Karen’s 2012 List of Favorite Reads.  Now, Egmont USA (publishers of Guitar Notes) and Luna Guitars are coming together to give away a signed copy of Guitar Notes and a beautiful Safari travel-sized guitar and backpack case to help unleash your inner songwriter.  

Entries will be accepted January 15 through February 12.  Enter through the Luna Guitars website.

Details and rules:

The Mary Amato Safari Tattoo Contest Rules



The Luna Gift of Music promotion is open to any citizen of planet Earth, with the following exception. Employees, officers and directors of Luna Guitars and its respective parents, subsidiaries, consultants, agents and suppliers, as well as their immediate families and persons living in the same household as such individuals, are not eligible to enter or win.


Promotion begins January 15, 2013 7AM EST and ends February 12, 2013 at 6PM EST. Winner will be announced February 15, 2013 in the TRIBE TALK newsletter from Luna and on the blog of Egmont USA children’s publisher based in Manhattan.


To enter the Safari Tattoo Contest, you must register at least email address, first name, and last name, using the link on the Contest Entry page. LIMIT ONE (1) ENTRY PER EMAIL ADDRESS FOR THIS PROMOTION. (Note that this will also add contestant to the TRIBE TALK subscription list.) 


The winner will be randomly selected betweenFebruary 12th and February 14th, 2013. If a potential winner cannot be contacted or the prize notification is returned as undeliverable, that winner will be disqualified and an alternate winner may be selected.


Safari Tattoo Guitar plus padded gig bag, and an autographed copy of Guitar Notes by Mary Amato


The name and hometown of the winner shall be published February 15, 2013 in the TRIBE TALK newsletter from Luna and on the blog of Egmont USA, a children’s publisher based in Manhattan. The winner will also be contacted via his or her registered email address and be available afterward through Luna’s newsletter archive page.