Shay, a high school student who hasn’t fit into life in Killin, Scotland since she and her mother moved into an inherited home there from London, has been being bullied. One afternoon, in a scuffle, she falls into a kiosk and uncovers a missing persons poster.
With her photographic memory, she is certain she saw the young girl on the flyer. Unfortunately, it was almost a year before. Still, she calls the number, and Kai, the girl’s brother, not too much other than Shay, immediately arranges to meets with her and find out everything she remembers.
At the same time, Callie, a girl imprisoned in a highly secure underground bunker is forced to endure painful experiments until given the “cure.” The cure kills her, turning her body to ash, but she lives in an alternative form. In this state, she is able to travel through the facility and watch as the personnel who tortured her succumb to a terrifying illness.
As Kai and Shay try to find his sister and Callie attempts to negotiate her way home, the deadly and incurable illness reaches epidemic proportions. Kai’s mother, an epidemiologist, joins the team searching for a cure while Shay learns that she and Kai’s sister have more in common that a simple encounter.
Kai and Shay’s search may lead them to the secret to the disease, if they can keep ahead of its rapid advance and avoid the Special Alternatives Regiment, a secret military group that doesn’t want the teenagers to succeed.
Contagion, a disaster book in the young adult genre, was a fun and quick read, though because it is the first in a trilogy, it is setting up the action for the story, and the ending is unresolved, to be addressed in the sequels. For some inexplicable reason, books about infectious diseases interest me, and Contagion was written better than most. As expected in the YA literature, the protagonist is a smart, scrappy teenager who is pretty but doesn’t realize it and who develops a romance with an equally smart, strong, and handsome teenage boy who is the first to see the girl for who she is. Although this seems to be a requirement, I often find it saccharine and just endure it for the rest of the plot in series like The Red Queen. Happily, in Contagion, it’s the least mawkish I’ve seen.
Here, the disease vector is strange and new. Though it is clear from the beginning to readers how the epidemic is being transmitted, the characters don’t realize it until the end of the book, and even then, there is confusion. Even for the readers, most of the details are not fully explained, and I wish there had been a little more time on the hypothetical science behind it. Iona, Shay’s sidekick, was my favorite character, and I wish we’d seen more of her, though what we did see was a blast.
The conclusion of the book places the characters in precarious positions that will propel the action in the follow-up, Deception, which is due later this year and which I will read as soon as possible. I suppose that’s a good recommendation for Contagion!
Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.