No Safety in Numbers


Author: Dayna Lorentz

Publication: 2012, Penguin

Pages: 263

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: When a bomb containing a deadly bio-weapon is found in the ventilation system of a busy mall, the entire place is sealed off and quarantined.  At first it’s kind of fun – an excuse to hang out, shop, make new friends – but when guys in hazmat suits show up and people start dying, the fun quickly gives way to fear and then panic.  Marco, Ryan, Shay, and Lexi each have their own reasons for being at the mall that day – their own fears, their own responsibilities, their own reasons for wanting to get the hell out.  But they’re all trapped together now, and what started out as fun is about to turn deadly.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Lorentz made an interesting choice by setting the story in a shopping mall.  It’s such an everyday place that it’s all too easy to imagine being there yourself – shopping at Abercrombie or JC Penny, eating at the food court.  And a bio-bomb is frighteningly real.  As many of the characters point out, if only they’d stayed home that day, if only they hadn’t decided they had to have that pair of shoes, they might not have been trapped.  Such a chance thing, and yet so easily real, makes this a cool story.  The mall also makes a great setting in that it’s full of diverse locations for the characters to interact – playing on computers at the Apple Store, climbing a rock wall at the outdoor store, eating in the restaurants, going on the little ferris wheel at the indoor amusement park – and yet it’s also an intensely small space that makes it easy for the characters to feel trapped.

The other good thing that Lorentz does here is having four distinctly different main characters whose lives and stories overlap as the book progresses. It lets us see the quarantine play out from a variety of angles – Ryan, the football player with a softer soul; Marco, the kid struggling to get by as he balances continuing to work his job in the mall with his desire to escape; Shay, the Indian girl who has to look after both her grandmother and her younger sister; and Lexi, the tech wiz who’s mom happens to be a US Senator and the woman who takes charge when everything in the mall goes to hell.  The constant flipping back and forth among POVs kept the story rolling along.

What I Liked the Least: Certain things about the story came off as not entirely believable.  Lorentz wants some of her teens butting heads with authority, so she’s put WAY more mall security guards into this particular mall then you’d ever find in real life – a force of fifty.  She’s armed them with tasers and given them access to riot shields and tear gas, despite the fact that I’ve never seen a mall cop with anything more than a walkie talkie.  And her mall cops seem far more committed to staying at their post and keeping order amidst the growing chaos than would be likely from someone with minimal training making minimum wage.  That’s not a slight on mall cops, just an assessment that if things really went to hell, they probably wouldn’t be as committed to staying on the job and keeping order as Lorentz portrays them.  Of course, without the mall cops her characters wouldn’t have anyone to fight.

I know this is only the first book in the series, and conditions will likely get worse in the subsequent books, but things stayed calm and happy for way too much of the story. Sure, some of the characters were trying to escape, but there’s no real breakdown in the social order until almost the end of the book – no true chaos and darkness.  I know those first hundred plus pages where things are still pretty good were laying the groundwork for what was to come, but for a book about quarantine and disease it felt a bit too cheery and I would have appreciated a quicker descent into horror.

How Good was the Action? It’s minimal.  A couple of fights and escape attempts, characters caught on the edge of a riot.  But really very little in the way of actual action, and what we do get is brief and lacking in overall detail.

How Engaging was the Story? There’s not necessarily a lot of character growth that takes place here, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t engaging.  Because we do have four main characters, and Lorentz does an excellent job of shifting between them and weaving their stories together.  And while the characters may not grow a lot over the course of the story, their situation and their concerns do change.  At the beginning, and even after the lock down, their drama and worries are fairly mundane – escaping a bully, making a friend, going on a date, etc.  As time goes on, their concerns are forced to change as they try to escape the mall, take care of their family, care for sick friends and even strangers, and dig into the mystery of why they’ve been locked up.  So while the characters themselves might not have the time or space to change a whole lot, their circumstances do grow increasingly dark, and that’s engaging in its own right.   

Overall Assessment: A scary bit of bio-terrorism.  Taking the all too safe and familiar mall and turning into a hive of fear, sickness, and death.

Profanity: None

Sex: A bit of very mild fantasy and a chaste kiss or two

Violence: Some, but most of it is fairly mild.  A few punch ups but with minimal detail and minimal blood.  People get tackled and have the wind knocked out of them.  One person does get shot, but again the detail is minimal.  People do die of course – there’s a deadly disease on the rampage.  But here too the detail and blood is kept to a minimum.  We know it’s happening, we even see a couple of people recently dead or on their way, but it’s not bloody.

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