Friday, July 16, 2010

Jenn's Review: Virals

Summary: Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage "sci-philes" who live on a secluded island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.

As Tory and her friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot –if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer's scent.

Fortunately, they are now more than friends: they're a pack. They are Virals.

Review: I was thoroughly jealous when I saw that Alison at Alison's Book Marks was reading an ARC of the new Kathy Reichs YA book due out in November. And I was positively thrilled when she said she had an extra copy that she was willing to send to me. I know some eyebrows went up among my reading friends when it was announced that Kathy Reichs was writing a YA novel –especially those who didn't make it through the dense writing of Déja Dead. But Reich's writing style has evolved over the past ten years into something that is highly accessible. I had no doubt this would be the start of a fantastic YA series – and it is.

Tory Brennan is actually Tempe's great-niece. Remember Kit her screwball nephew from Deadly Decisions? Well, he's all grown up. Kit's a marine biologist who works for the University of Charleston, and he's just discovered he has a daughter. Tory is smart but naive and not only does she takes after Tempe, she idolizes her – which is how the trouble starts.

Hanging around on the monkey habitat/research island where their parents work (similar to the one mentioned in Death Du Jours, but this island carries a different name), the teens get bombarded by an angry monkey. Tory realizes that the object the monkey has hurled at her are heavily crusted dog tags and she starts wondering who they belong to and how the tags ended up there. She convinces the gang to break into one of the research labs so that she can clean the tags with a sonicator so they are legible... perhaps they can return them to their owner. This one decision starts a cataclysm of events.

Though it took some time for Reichs to set the exposition, it was worth it – and she gives young readers a prologue straight from one of the action sequences to hook them. While the reader is aware that the teens have become infected, Tory and her friends have to discover it on their own. This revelation culminates with some extraordinary sensory perception and physical capabilities, if only the Virals could control when and where it happens – as it is they're already outsiders at the prep school they attend due to their academic prowess and more modest means.

Once the action starts, Reichs doesn't let up. The teens try to go to the authorities but the local cops opinion is that "academics and their kids are prone to exaggeration". With the adults being uncooperative, the Virals decide to investigate for themselves, both the dog tags, and their mysterious illness with the crazy symptoms.

I think any analogy of Viralsas a modern day Nancy Drew story is a bit of an oversimplification. I grew up on Nancy Drew; this is so much better. The characters are more balanced, and far better developed. The plot is tight and the action intense and realistic. Though the story centers on Tory, she couldn't manage with out her friends, each of whom has expertise in different scientific areas. There's lots of action an plenty of mystery. As her friends are all guys, I think the story lends itself equally to teenagers of either sex.

This is classic spell-binding Reichs writing with a new sci-fi twist thrown in. She adapted her style and the science to be accessible to teens without reducing it to condescension. And while I referenced the ways in which this book ties into her adult series, none of that information is pertinent to the new reader (though it was amusing to me to see Kit attempt to be the authoritative parent after all the hell he raised as a teen). Virals is an excellent beginning to a series and I can't wait to see were it goes from here! I urge you to pick this up when it debuts in the fall* even if you don't normally read YA books.

Final Take: 4.5/5

* Viralswill be released November 2, 2010


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