Book Review: DECEPTION, a continuation of the Dark Matter Trilogy

Happy publication day to Deception by Teri Terry, Book Two in the riveting Dark Matter Trilogy!

Shay, believing herself a carrier of the deadly Aberdeen Flu, flees her boyfriend, Kai, in the night to turn herself in. She’s imprisoned with a group of other survivors under the management of physicist Dr. Alex Cross, Kai’s hated stepfather.

Although angry Shay abandoned him, Kai can think of nothing but finding her. However, with no leads, he decides to find Freja Eriksen in London—a mysterious woman who has been posting videos disputing that survivors are contagious. Callie, Kai’s “cured” sister who can only be seen by survivors, follows him.

Meanwhile, as the epidemic spreads across the UK, jumping quarantine lines, a cure seems ever more elusive.

Deception expands the cast of characters from the first novel in the Dark Matter Trilogy, Contagion, and explains more about the mechanisms of the Aberdeen Flu as well as the surprising powers of the survivors.

With Freja, Shay and Kai enter a love triangle made complicated by distance and distrust as well as the survivors’ new capabilities. Dr. Cross’s motivations remain suspicious—and while Shay is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, Kai is certain he is a malevolent force. At the same time, Callie must confront uncomfortable truths about her situation.

Written for a young adult audience, this trilogy offers an entertaining series that engages questions of identity, difference, and power. Deception is a satisfying continuation, and I look forward to the final volume, Evolution.

Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: REFUGEE, the harrowing journeys of three young asylum seekers

Alan Gratz

Forced by life-or-death circumstances to flee home at a moment’s notice, the young protagonists of Refugee by Alan Gratz illustrate the journeys of asylum seekers in three periods of history. In 1938, Josef, a Jewish boy, boards the MS St. Louis for Cuba hoping for freedom for persecution. Isabel, her family, and her next-door neighbors, in 1994 board a handmade raft to Miami from Cuba after her father took part in a demonstration against Fidel Castro. Mahmoud and his family leave his beloved city of Aleppo, in ruins after six years of civil war, in 2014, after their apartment building is destroyed by a missile. Despite being separated by decades, the families are interconnected in surprising ways.

Though each has a unique voyage, similarities run through the pilgrimages. They all experience danger; watch as their families separate, sometimes permanently, witness death; and take on adult roles even though they are only twelve or thirteen. The book also shows how living besieged and then as refugees can affect people differently. Additionally, the reader can find interesting symbolic parallels such as the role of dictators and how they are displayed visually in each society.

These are heady and difficult issues, but Gratz presents them in an age-appropriate way. Especially at the beginning of the book, he provides a lot of context about the leaders in power in Germany, Cuba, and Syria, and the conditions that create refugees. While there is a lot of loss and sorrow in the book, it ends on a hopeful note.

I would recommend this book to any guardians who want their children to learn more about the refugee crisis. It’s also a book that promotes empathy with people of other cultures and backgrounds. Adults, too, can learn from the story.

Book Review: PLAGUE LAND – NO ESCAPE, conclusion to a trilogy

Scarrow, Alex - Plague Land No Escape (3)Plague Land: No Escape
Alex Scarrow

The third novel in the Plague Land series finds Leon left in the UK, Freya on her way to what’s left of the United States, now hosted by Cuba, and Grace on a Chinese aircraft carrier. In the first novel, a malevolent virus wiped out most of humankind within a week. Only those taking drugs seemed to be spared. The second novel showed the virus’s development and introduced Tom, Leon and Grace’s father, who was desperate to find his children. Partnering with the Pacific Nations Alliance, he led a disastrous attempt to rescue English survivors. With too many refugees in a small camp, it became overrun with the virus that was now able to copy humans and hide in plain sight. As chaos spread among the survivors, the three teenagers became separated.

Plague Land: No Escape concludes the trilogy, with the virus attempting to reach out to humans to communicate and explain its mission. However, the virus is willing to forgo negotiations and complete the mission by any means necessary. It seems inevitable that the ever decreasing number of survivors will be annihilated by the virus which can now flawlessly duplicate any living form and withstand any attack. Those left now must decide to fight or acquiesce to the virus’s demands.

This series is marketed as young adult which surprises me a little bit, partly because of the language but mainly because of the gore. It is so disgusting, and each volume was more graphic and gross! These weren’t descriptions of violence but of the effect of the virus. Furthermore, it didn’t make much biological sense so felt gratuitous. No Escape introduced a few new characters, but the characterization was light, and I didn’t like the separation of the three main characters. To me, the action wasn’t as compelling as the previous entry, and many conversations between the virus and the humans were repetitive. I suppose when it came down to it, I didn’t much like the mission of the virus or how it played out. I’d hoped that the ending would wrap it up in a compelling way, but I was underwhelmed.

Book Review: CONTAGION by Teri Terry

Terry, Teri - Contagion (2)Contagion
Teri Terry

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.

Book Review: DREAMLAND BURNING, revisiting the Tulsa Race Riot

Latham, Jennifer - Dreamland Burning (2)Dreamland Burning
Jennifer Latham

In present-day Tulsa, workers renovating a back house on the Chase family property found a skeleton buried under the floor. Before calling the police, seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase summoned her best friend, James, and they looked at the bones themselves. Only when Rowan’s mother unexpectedly come home did officers come to the house. Because the skeleton was dated, it was assigned to a forensic anthropologist. Rowan feared that its story would never be told so she resolved that she and James would investigate and learn the identity and as much of what happened as they could. At the same time, she begins a summer job at the low-income Jackson Clinic.

Rowan’s story is intercut with that of Will Tuttle, seventeen-years-old in 1921, the year of the race riots that destroyed Greenwood, Tulsa’s vibrant black neighborhood. While Tuttle has been indoctrinated with the belief that whites are superior, and is pressured by his friend Cletus and a neighboring shopkeeper, Vernon Fish, to join the junior KKK, he is mixed race himself, with his mother a full Osage Indian. Furthermore, he befriends black siblings Joseph and Ruby Goodhope.

Dreamland Burning is exceptionally good at depicting Tulsa in the past and the present, and showing the layering of history through the two timelines. Personally, I enjoyed touches that reminded me of home–mention of the required ninth grade Oklahoma History course and descriptions of the smell of Sonic.

The book also vividly captures the horror of the Jim Crow error in Tulsa and the inequality, racism, and hatred that led to the two-day tragedy. Anyone who is interested in learning about this historical event but doesn’t enjoy non-fiction would be satisfied by this novel. Though it’s written for a young adult audience, it doesn’t shy away from the horrific details of the massacre.

Telling the story through two time periods allows Latham to explore how the attitudes that led to the Tulsa Race Riot still exist today and are manifested in small and large atrocities.

While I thought the book told an important and difficult historical story well, I didn’t particularly like the two protagonists. Both were wealthy, biracial teenagers of privilege who, although challenging their long-held and unquestioned assumptions, had secure families to support them. While there are narrative reasons to select these characters as narrators, they weren’t my favorite characters and tended to distract from the more interesting and unique personalities. Rowan, in particular, was to me unlikable. She constantly talked about wanting to please her parents, but her decisions were poor and often sneaky. While Will’s story has an elegant ending, Rowan’s conclusion was abrupt. In fact, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t another chapter, it was such a sudden end that I did a double-take when the next page was headed “acknowledgments.” Also, I thought some of the writing was cliched and unsophisticated. However, overall, Dreamland Burning is worth reading for the historical content.