Trend Watch: Contagion
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.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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