Thursday, 10 May 2012

Book review: Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

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.

I think I should just let you all know that this review is going to be terrible. Not because the book was bad but because I am struggling to find anything bad to say about it. Expect this review to be full of gushing because I absolutely LOVED this book.

I thought it was smart, compelling and brave. It dares to go into territory that many YA books will not tread. It is brutal, violent, gruesome, frightening and at times overwhelming. Another thing that separates this book from a lot of others in the genre is that you are never quite sure how this is all going to end. Normally you have an idea, you know the main character is going to be fine but in this it is not so certain. It adds a tenseness as you read because you really do care about the characters and you really do care what happens.

The story is compelling, something that I was not expecting when I read the blurb. I never thought that kids being stuck in a school together would be interesting but it was. (The kids go tribal and it is awesome). From beginning to end this book holds your attention. The first chapter is amazingly engaging and hooks you in straight away; these writers definitely know how to grab your attention. The ending is fantastic and leaves you thirsting for more.

What it so utterly brilliant about this book is that it is comparable to life for teens in school today. The pressures of being popular, the fear of being a loner, of being bullied are all represented in this dystopian fiction. I am not a teen but I think a lot of the messages in this novel will reach out to modern teens in a way many YA books cannot. In its way this book is brutally realistic, which I found to be a really smart move from the writers. Also this book takes a close look at human nature, at how quickly and easy it could be for us to all fall into dangerous disarray.

It feels at times so real, people band together in groups, some stay with people who are just like them. Some join people who can protect them, but everything comes at a cost. The protectors are often bullies and control freaks, and it makes you wonder how much could you take before you tried your luck on your own. As horrible as it sounds, I can image this happening and that is what makes this book so disturbing.

The characters are amazing. For me it is all about David. I have not felt a connection to a character like this in a while. Simply put I loved him…a lot (seriously I might actually be in love with him). He was smart, brave, funny and cute. I spent so much of my time preying that nothing happened to him, I am surprised I managed to notice anything else about the book. In contrast David’s brother Will is not as likable; in fact in the beginning he is damn irritating. He acts like a spoilt brat, he is selfish and I was planning on bringing him up as a massive thing I disliked about this book… but then he goes and redeems himself, and he changed and become someone I really liked.

Their relationship is an interesting one. It is clear that they love each other unconditionally. David would do anything for Will and vise-a-versa but the relationship is strained. You see a snippet off their life before disaster struck and see how at ease they are with one another but all that changes in the dark halls of the high school. It is interesting to see the strain on them build up, yet again it felt amazingly real without ever being over the top.

All the secondary characters are top-notch. Heroes and villains, all are well thought out and well put together.

Lex Thomas (this is really confusing because Lex Thomas is actually two people) really needs a round of applause for their world building. This world is dark and dirty. It is rotting and revolting. It is utterly perfect for what they were going for. It matches the grimness of the characters situation and the fast pace of the story. In this world things move quickly, it doesn’t let up for a second. Things happen in the blink of an eye but never do the writers hide what is happening. The violence and anguish is in your face, they do not shy away from it at all, not for a second.

Maybe that is where the only negative thing I have to say about this book comes in. Although I don’t have a problem with it (in fact I quite like it) this book might just prove too violent and brutal for some. It is beyond anything else I have read in YA and I know some readers are not comfortable with that. I really hope this doesn’t put anyone off because this book is well worth the read.
I have heard today that this book is being made into a movie. I honestly think this novel is perfect source material. I cannot wait for the movie and I cannot wait for the next book. I strongly recommend this book to everyone.

4 stars

Published July 10th 2012 by EgmontUSA.  A free copy was provided for review. Image courtesy of Goodreads

Review by Kate Phillips

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