Friday, August 23, 2013

Review: Viral Nation (Viral Nation #1) by Shaunta Grimes

Release Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Source: NetGalley
Author Links: Goodreads | Website | Twitter

After a virus claimed nearly the entire global population, the world changed. The United States splintered into fifty walled cities where the surviving citizens clustered to start over. The Company, which ended the plague by bringing a life-saving vaccine back from the future, controls everything. They ration the scant food and supplies through a lottery system, mandate daily doses of virus suppressant, and even monitor future timelines to stop crimes before they can be committed.
Brilliant but autistic, sixteen-year-old Clover Donovan has always dreamed of studying at the Waverly-Stead Academy. Her brother and caretaker, West, has done everything in his power to make her dream a reality. But Clover’s refusal to part with her beloved service dog denies her entry into the school. Instead, she is drafted into the Time Mariners, a team of Company operatives who travel through time to gather news about the future.
When one of Clover’s missions reveals that West’s life is in danger, the Donovans are shattered. To change West’s fate, they’ll have to take on the mysterious Company. But as its secrets are revealed, they realize that the Company’s rule may not be as benevolent as it seems. In saving her brother, Clover will face a more powerful force than she ever imagined… and will team up with a band of fellow misfits and outsiders to incite a revolution that will change their destinies forever.

A dystopian time-travel story with an autistic girl as the main character? 
My first thought was, "Wow!", and my second thought was, "Wonder if the author can pull it off?"Well, she did. Congratulations, Ms. Grimes! 

There are a lot of us out there who know and love people on the autism spectrum. It's a mysterious condition that strikes without much rhyme or reason, and can range from debilitating to just a bit quirky. And even if you think you've never met someone with autism, you're probably wrong. Remember the weird kid with no social skills who sat behind you in middle school? Think about the kid you knew that randomly cleared their throat or made humming noises? Maybe they constantly pulled at their clothes and never looked anyone in the eye? Made strange jokes that didn't make sense? Or maybe they just never got the jokes that other people made. 
You've met someone. At some point.
But with autism comes a range of other abilities that can be strikingly brilliant. Photographic memories, musical savants, artistic geniuses, and off the chart intelligence are some of the side-effects of autism. Not always, but sometimes.

In Clover's case, she can recall anything she's ever read. Nice, huh? Wish I could do that. But with the good, comes the bad. She is easily overwhelmed in situations, certain textures bother her (the seam in her socks, tags, etc.), and social situations are hard for her. She's wary of other people because she can't read facial expressions, and she's been burned over and over again by cruel kids who have made her the butt of their jokes.
Can you imagine if you couldn't understand when someone was being sarcastic or giving you a backhanded complement? School is hard enough, but not being able to tell a bully from a friend? Nightmare!

In this version of the future, a virus has wiped out the majority of the population. A cure was found, but it needs to be taken daily (or at least every few days?), otherwise the symptoms will reappear. The suppressant was only found after a scientist discovered a portal that allowed him to travel two years into the future. He recovered a vial of the future cure, brought it back, reverse engineered it, and saved the day. Now time-travel is used to find out future problems and prevent them before they happen. In fact, murderers are executed before they have a chance to commit the crime. Hmmm.

Clover was only a week or so old when the cure was found, and her brother, West, was a toddler. Her mother contracted the virus at the hospital, and was dying painfully when her husband overdosed her on pain medication to spare her further suffering. He fully expected both him and his two small children to be dead within days, and was only hoping to survive long enough to care for them so that they wouldn't die alone. In a cruel twist of fate the doctor arrived at his doorstep with the cure moments after he euthanized his wife. He could never forgive himself for her 'murder', and slowly began withdrawing from his children. He eventually left them in the care of a neighbor, and took a job as an executioner.

In the present, Clover is getting ready to enter a prestigious academy because of her off the chart academic scores. West has put everything on hold to take over as Clover's caretaker and ensure that she didn't end up in Foster City. Now that she's finally leaving home, he can get on with his life. 
Except it doesn't go down that way. Clover has a service dog, Mango, that helps her cope when things get too overwhelming. When she goes to her interview at the academy, however, the headmaster realizes she's autistic, and tells her they don't allow animals. There's no way Clover can function without Mango, and the headmaster knows it. He then sends her to the Time Mariners, where the rather creepy man in charge informs her that she has been 'drafted' into their service. She's given a few strange instructions, and then thrown into the exciting world of time-travel. 
Ok. It's not really all that exciting. They kind of just go and pick up information packets at drop points...

Everything is going relatively well until she goes on a mission and encounters a young man who breaks the rules. Everyone knows that if they see a Time Mariner, they are supposed to turn away and pretend they aren't there. But not only does this guy approach her, he gives her a piece of paper...and then kisses her! It's the fact that he knows how to kiss her without setting her off that convinces Clover to take his message and hide it. When she returns from the trip, she open the letter and finds an execution order for West, for the murder of the girl he's secretly in love with. She knows West. She knows that he wouldn't kill someone. And there's no way she's going to sit around and wait for him to be arrested. Her only option is to go waaaay outside her comfort zone to save him.

This sets off a chain of events that turns everything they know upside down. It seems their entire society is built on lies...

I have to admit that I was drawn to this book because of the autistic main character. However, it turned out to be a very solid dystopian novel. I also thought the relationship between West and Clover was realistically written. West wasn't happy that he had to stay with Clover instead of do the things he wanted, but he stayed anyway. He's not some kind of a saint, but he loves her. I also thought it was great that Clover had a love interest. Very sweet, and totally appropriate.

While the idea of a world built of secrets and lies is nothing new to the dystopian genre, the characters are interesting enough on their own to keep this story fresh. 
If you're looking for something different, don't miss out on this book!

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Mel@Thedailyprophecy said...

I have a soft spot for Dystopian books with viruses and plagues. I also really like the fact that the MC is autistic. That makes the book extra interesting and I can't wait to read it :) Thanks for the great review!



I hope you enjoy it! I was impressed with the way it dealt with her autism.

books4me said...

This sounds like a book that my teen would love to read. Thanks for the review and bringing this book to my attention!


Mary Preston said...

I've seen VIRAL NATION all over the internet. It seems I must read it.

Neyra said...

Love your review Anne! I haven't heard of this one, but it's definitely going on my tbr list! :D

Steph F. said...

I have this book on my shelf but haven't read it yet be use I wasn't sure about it but after your review i think I'll have to go ahead and start it.

Pamela Brittany said...

My e-copy of this was all jacked up. Now I'm even more disappointed! ARGH. haha, glad you enjoyed it, though.


I hate it when I get a e-copy that's all mangled, Pamela! Hope you get a chance to read it anyway.

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