Quarantine: The Loners


Author: Lex Thomas

Publication: 2012, Egmont

Pages: 404

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: McKinley High School has been quarantined.   The students there carry a deadly virus that will kill anyone eighteen and over in seconds. As time passes, they descend into chaos, forming rival gangs based on social cliques to divide up the school and fight for food. Without a gang, you’ve got no chance of survival.

David Thorpe and his brother, Will, are living on the edge, barely eking out a living washing clothes for some of the gangs. And the leader of the biggest gang in school wants David dead.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: The raw brutality of it all. Quarantine makes no bones about how much life trapped in a high school, fighting over food and territory, would really suck. There’s nothing romantic about it. Do the students find moments of pleasure? Absolutely. But those are overwhelmed by the day-to-day horror of their lives and endless struggle for survival.

That same level of honesty comes across in how each of the gangs survive. It’s not an all-out brawl for food. They trade on their skills, the same as any market throughout history. The strongest gangs battle it out for supplies at the bi-weekly food drops. The rest trade on what they can do to buy the supplies they need. The Geeks put on shows and make art – sounds a little funny at first until you realize that people trapped in a crap hole like this would be desperate for entertainment and touches of beauty. The Nerds rent books and use their intellect to become the school doctors. After all, everybody needs healthcare when they’re beating each other up, and even if you’re struggling to survive you still want the chance to escape into a good book. I was glad Thomas recognized this, and built into the McKinley social structure.

What I Liked the Least: I’ll be honest, pages 22 to 52 kind of sucked. That covers the time from when the school first goes into quarantine, to when the major action heats up – 1 year later. Yeah, you heard me right, 1 year later. Those 30 pages were an episodic whirlwind – a flash here and a flash there. If it hadn’t settled down when it did, I would have tossed the book away. I can’t understand why Thomas approached the story like this. If he wanted to jump into the action at a time when the gangs were already established, then he should have just done that on page one and used the odd bit of backstory to fill in how we got there. Either that or start from the moment of quarantine and focus the story on those first few weeks when the school was in utter chaos. The choice to try and do both did not work.

Thomas also screwed it on the chapter detailing how the quarantine happened. Everything is just fine until the moment half the school is torn apart in an explosion. Then David’s teacher pukes up blood and dies in his hands, and minutes later the army is marching across the parking lot shooting anyone who tries to leave. It’s not until a couple of episodic chapters later that we learned this was all because a kid escaped when the military tried to close down an illegal bio-warfare experiment at a nearby armaments plant. David’s dad could have worked at that plant and dropped some hint about how conflicted he was. Or when David and Will were coming to school that day they could have seen the military chasing the escaped teen into the building. Whatever the approach, we needed some kind of build-up so that the disease and military didn’t come out of nowhere.

After page 52, the rest of the book is pretty solid, at least until we hit the final chapter – where once again Thomas tries to drop a bomb on us so that the book can end on a cliffhanger. In reality, it would have been way more satisfying – and made way more sense – if he’d ended things on the second-to-last chapter.

How Good was the Action? Brutal. Most of the fights are short, but heavy on violence. Thomas never tries to focus on too many people in the chaotic vortex of a gang fight. The action usually stays on David, so we can see what he’s doing but feel the chaos swirling all around him. He hits someone with a bat. Gets tackled from behind, bites down hard on someone’s fingers. Has a spiked glove fly at him.

When it’s a one-on-one fight, it’s usually over in a few moves, but Thomas plays it out with great blow-by-blow detail interspersed with snippets of raw emotion. And the sheer pain and violence of each fight is enough to make you cringe – especially when you realize that the only doctor’s around are Nerds with scrounged supplies and whatever know-how they’ve picked up from a medical textbook.

How Engaging was the Story? Once the pace settled down – around page 52 – the story really drew me in. David and Will’s rocky relationship, the split that comes when they rescue a beautiful girl, the struggle for survival as they draw other loners together into a real gang – and the constant threat of violence – made this a hard book to put down. While most of the focus is solidly on David, Thomas switched points of view just often enough to keep things interesting and remind me that no matter how comfortable things got more trouble was always on the way.

Overall Assessment: A rocky beginning, and the last chapter felt like a joke, but once the story settles into its groove you’ve got a brutally violent and honest tale of the struggle for survival in a quarantined high school. Nerds pitted against jocks, freaks, pretty ones, and skaters. Thomas doesn’t pull any punches with this one.

Profanity: Yes, and plenty of it.

Sex: Absolutely. There’s nudity, a potential rape scene, and tons of making out.

Violence: The book bleeds blood and gore. Broken limbs, crude booby traps, violent gang fights, executions. One guy even gets his eye stabbed out.

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