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 make this comparison kind of a lot with these teenage dystopians, but this has a lot of similarities to Lord of the Flies. If Lord of the Flies took place in a high school. And wasn’t awful and painful to read.
Dystopians at this point need something different to really stand out to me, and this one had something. I’m not even sure I can say exactly what it was. I liked that it took place inside a school, although I suppose that’s not totally unique. I think maybe it was the characters. David is a former athlete who has fallen pretty much as far as you can possibly fall in the social strata of high school. He keeps his distance from those who would want to hurt him (his former friends, most of whom are cruel, megalomaniacal doucheblasters) and from everyone else except for his brother Will, but he still has a bit of hero in him. He still keeps his desire to do right by people, and at one point everything comes to a head and David makes a decision that could cost he and Will both their lives. I felt like David had real personality. He wasn’t shallow or one dimensional. And the mean kids? Were MEAN. I mean, they weren’t that great before they got locked in a school for over a year.
Without getting too over-analytical, the book also says a lot about the hierarchy of high school, where different groups fit in, and the haves vs. the have nots. How this spills over even when banding together to survive would be the smartest possible thing they could do, and how they still keep their petty differences and they magnify even further in the face of danger. They still split up into cliques just as they would in a normal situation and things get more and more vicious as the groups fight for what they need to survive.
I really liked that time passes during the book. The beginning starts off present day but it almost immediately shifts to one year later. The kids have already learned how to get by inside the school and have already split off into their groups (or found themselves without a group, for the unlucky few). They’re used to being in there, they’ve developed a routine, and tensions are at a boil. It really ramped up the action right away instead of the reader having to follow along while they try to figure out what’s going on, assess their situation, etc. At first I was like, “Whoa, wait…how are we at a year later already” but as the book went on I came to appreciate it.
I also liked that despite these being teenagers, the authors (it’s a pair writing together) really did not pull any punches. There was one particular scene where I literally gasped out loud because I was sure that the person in peril was going to find a way to weasel themselves out of trouble, and then it was like BAM. Yikes. Very emotional.
All of that said, the last few chapters of the book were really what drew me in. I enjoyed the entire thing, but the last 50 pages or so were what made me think that I have to read the next book in the series. Really great action and a few surprises, plus some drama and a serious cliffhanger at the end. I’m looking forward to the second book.