Imagine a regular suburban high school (on the bigger side) with bustling students on the first day of school. Students have just arrived for the start of the school year, and they are wandering the halls catching up with friends before the day officially begins. As students are rushing to homeroom, an explosion takes place, knocking out the entire east wing. Then suddenly, the teachers begin dying—fast. And you, as a student, notice your hair has begun to fall out.
What has happened?
This is the story in the book Quarantine, by Lex Thomas. After the explosion, the surviving students are locked in the school by government officials, with little information about their future. They learn that all of them are infected with a virus. It is deadly to adults and children, but for some reason, the teens can survive it. They are not permitted to exit until the virus is set to leave their body, when one is approximately 18 years old.
The students left behind form gangs in order to help them survive. Some of the gangs are the Freaks, Skaters, Nerds, Geeks, Sluts, Pretty Ones and Varsity. Each group is very specific in its entry requirements, and each has their own rules and roles to play in the school community at large. Varsity, for example, rules the school with the biggest, toughest guys and a monopoly on food. During the weekly food drops, they dominate, leaving little else for the other groups, who must barter goods or services just to eat.
The book focuses on the brothers, David and Will, over the course of about a year and a half, who do their best to survive, sticking together amongst the madness that the school has become. David, older than Will, feels the need to protect and provide for his brother, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, this is made difficult by the fact that Varsity has it out for him. Before the explosion ever occurred, David managed to anger the head of Varsity, who is determined to see David dead. Because of this, life is difficult for the two of them. There’s also quite the sibling rivalry there too.
The Scraps, like David and Will, do not belong to gangs, but exist on the periphery, moving in and out when necessary. For David and Will, their Scrap status is largely due to the bounty on David’s head. Other Scraps are simply outcasts in one way or another, not quite fitting into any gang. The students’ world is dominated by violence, danger, and the ever-present fear of the unknown. Can they make it to “graduation” and see the world once again?
The cover of the book has a quote calling Quarantine “as original as The Hunger Games,” which seemed like an accurate depiction to me. As a book concept, it is very unique to me, and in this case the “bad guy” is almost hard to pinpoint, since their world is plunged into chaos. The whole premise is fairly disturbing, which made reading it an interesting experience. The government’s input into the situation makes for a unique twist on the secluded survival idea.
I did find some gaps in the story that bothered me, and at some points the story lagged, but overall it was a good book, and I do recommend reading it. Dystopian books are very popular right now, and it frequently feels like the books have "been done" already. Quarantine was not only well-written, but it is a new take on the dystopian genre, which makes me anxious to read their sequel in this planned series.