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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).

Top 10: Reasons you should buy Quarantine Book 1: The Loners for your library (guest post by Lex Thomas)

Because I knew I was going to make Quarantine by Lex Thomas our TLT Rec of the Week this week, I decided to invite the authors – yes, authors as Lex Thomas is actually two people – to make this week’s Top 10 list of reasons why you should put their book in your library.  This is the list they came up with and, having read the book, they are absolutely right.
1. Boys will want to read it
While we think the premise of being trapped in your high school indefinitely is universally appealing, we think the action, the driving pace, and the violence in our book will attract the boys. Boys need more books, and we hope the Quarantine series can help meet that demand.
2. It’s for anyone who’s scared of high school
The summer before freshmen year, we can both remember being worried about the four years that loomed ahead. If you know an eight-grader that’s apprehensive about high school, give them this book. Whatever they’re afraid of might pale in comparison to the nightmare of McKinley High. After reading The Loners, maybe they can enter next year feeling a bit more confident. Also, anyone who is currently in high school, or once was, knows first hand that high school can be scary. Our book lets them dip their toe back into that fear again.
3. It’s for anyone who feels they don’t belong
When McKinley High is quarantined, and the students are left to their own devices, the cliques morph into exclusive gangs that fight for food dropped in by the military. If you don’t belong to a gang, like David, the main character, your chances of survival are slim. David is forced to form his own gang, the Loners. Maybe you can think of a reader of yours that might relate to the heroes being the ones that don’t fit in?

4. It’s fun to see how the other half lives
The students of McKinley High have had to make some hard choices. Not least among them is choosing a gang. When you pick a gang, it’s permanent, so you better be sure. The Geeks, the Nerds, the Freaks, the Skaters, the Sluts, the Loners, the Pretty Ones, and Varsity, those are your choices. Part of the fun of the book is getting to see glimpses of life in every gang, and imagining what gang you might join. Whatever group the reader belongs to in real life, or did belong to, it’s fun to fantasize about going another direction.
5. It’s about siblings
At the core of our book is a story of two brothers. David is a senior who will do anything to make sure his younger brother, Will, will be safe after he graduates from McKinley High, but Will doesn’t want anyone’s help. And they both love the same girl. For anyone that’s ever had to deal with sibling rivalry, the push and pull of David and Will’s relationship will be relatable. By the end of the book, you may feel like a part of the family yourself.
6. What would you do to survive?
There are no adults left in McKinley high, and so the students make the rules. To put it another way, there are no rules except for your own moral code. We have characters that make the moral choice and we have characters that make the immoral choice, and others make no choices at all. We wanted to create a world where the reader might wonder what they would do, faced with the same situation. We hope that creates an opportunity for discussion of what do readers think is right and wrong, and how they believe they would act when their survival is on the line.
7. It’s a fast read
We worked very hard to give this story a full-throttle pace. People that have read it have told us that they can feel that momentum. Some have even read it in one sitting. So, if someone checks The Loners out, chances are good that it will be returned quickly, and another person can get a chance it a read more quickly.
8. It’s gonna be a movie
The book has been optioned by Mark Morgan (Twilight, Percy Jackson) and Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures), and we’re currently writing the screenplay. Your readers will have bragging rights when the movie comes out, because they read it first!

9. It’s a good gateway book to convince a kid to read Lord of the Flies
Given the survival and isolation themes and its exploration of the dark side of human nature, we think our book makes a natural companion to Lord Of The Flies and books of that ilk. We recommend Alex Garland’s The Beach as a Quarantine chaser for your older readers.

10. The library is the best part
We won’t spoil it, but one of the gangs in McKinley High lives in the library, and when the reader finally gets to see behind those doors, they’re going to be in for some big surprises. So… considering how cool we’ve made the library, I mean, it would almost be weird if you didn’t order this book. [BLATANT GUILT TRIP]

Karen would like to add:
Because Daniel Kraus said so. So did Kami Garcia. And Stephanie and Karen. And The Mr., who is a boy that loved it and read it in 2 nights.  He says yep, boys will love it.
Also, Lex and Thomas are right – the library reveal is wicked awesome and one of my 2 favorite things about this book.  I can’t tell you the other because, you know, spoilers!
Have you read Quarantine yet?  Tell us what you think in the comments.

Trend Watch: Contagion

What’s next on the Trendwatch? Contagions!  Suddenly in the ya books I’m reading communities – and countries – are being taken down by the age old arch nemesis of mankind: the virus.

Caution: While reading these titles please report any sudden coughing, sneezing or itching to the local authorities.  In order to prevent the spread of contagion, please wear appropriate protective gear and remember to wash your hands.  Any person showing any signs of contagion must report those signs immediately. Happy reading.

In Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas, previously reviewed by Stephanie Wilkes, teens carry a virus that kills all the adults and find themselves quarantined in the high school.  Like in Lord of the Flies, the survival instinct takes over and the teen’s go all gangster’s paradise on each other.  Daniel Kraus recently reviewed Quarantine for Booklist and points out that there are shocking moments of ultraviolence, but as these contagion books point out the looming threat of biological contamination does not bring out the best in human nature. (Total side note: Quarantine shows a rich, complicated relationship between brothers and does a great job of depicting a character with Epilepsy and showing how vulnerable this makes him in this situation.  I also appreciated how the MC made some important decisions to help others even though it cost him a lot.)

In Starters by Lissa Price, previously reviewed by me, everyone who didn’t get the vaccine for a life taking diseases has been wiped off the face of the planets leaving in its wake a new caste system that leaves young people scrambling for survival.  It also creates an illegal black market for technological body snatching.  There are only two groups of people now: starters and enders.  (Look for the companion novel, Enders, coming out in the fall.)

In Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, a plague hangs over the land with a darkness that hangs over the land like a thick, oppressive fog.  With Masque, Griffin creates a world so darkly macabre that Poe himself would be jealous with envy.  This is a twisted world where your only hope of salvation is a specialized mask and like all good capitalist societies, the pursuit of the almighty dollar is placed above the welfare of the people.  There are twisted underground leaders, dying people lining the streets, possible mad scientists, and a superbly menacing crocodile scene.

Then last night I finished reading The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe.  Here, 16-year-old Kaelyn writes in a journal to her best friend on the mainland from her island paradise.  It begins slowly and innocently, an itch under your skin, a cough, a sneeze.  Then all inhibitions break down and you are being incredibly frank with the people around you, sharing how you really feel with no holding back or nod to the polite rules of society.  And then – you die.  As it becomes clear that this is a deadly outbreak, the government comes in and quarantines the island.  One by one the people around you die, schools are closed, society breaks down, and you are trying to find away to make sure you stay safe. 

I appreciated in this contagion tale the way some of the characters – some of the teens – really rose to the occasion and tried to find ways to help others and selflessly do what is good and noble.  Whereas in Quarantine you see teens immediately devolving into reckless survival mode, in The Way We Fall you see thoughtful, introspective teens looking out to continue community.  Not all of them, of course, because if we have learned anything – it’s that the end of the world brings out the worst in human nature.  They are different books telling different stories, each effective in their own ways.

Like with dystopian fiction, you find yourself reading these tales of contagion and putting together your survival kit in your head.  While reading The Way We Fall I developed phantom itches.  At least, I hope they were phantom itches.  So grab a book – and a face mask – and snuggle in for an eerie read about microbes gone rogue.

Do you have any contagion titles you have read recently to add to the 2012 Trend Watch? And what did you think of these ones?  You can view the other trends here.