Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Books of 2008: Streams of Babel

It's that time of year again, and your friendly neighborhood librarians are eager to tell you about the best books of 2008. Here is Melissa E. with a review of her favorite young adult book of the year.

A recent trend in teen books seems to be the dystopian or disaster novel—we have had a rather vague war in England that leaves the teens to fend for themselves in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now; there’s been the question of “what would happen if an asteroid hit the moon?” courtesy of Susan Beth Pfeffer in both Life As We Knew It and The Dead & the Gone; and there is life after nuclear destruction, lived in The Compound, by S. A. Bodeen.

My nomination for best of 2008 in this category is Streams of Babel, by Carol Plum-Ucci, a tale of bioterrorism in the suburbs of New York. The story evolves from multiple points of view: It begins with Cora Holman in Trinity Falls, New Jersey, whose painkiller-addicted mother has just died, supposedly of an overdose but actually (unbeknownst to anyone) as the first victim of a water-borne virus that mimics the flu and then aneurysm as it destroys the brain. Then the book jumps to Karachi, Pakistan, to a 16-year-old computer genius named Shahzad Hamdani, who works as a “virtual spy” by monitoring chat rooms and providing intel to a U.S. government agency. He has found amidst the babble of the chat rooms a dialogue about Red Vinegar, a poison intended for an unknown water source. The agency men for whom he works have concluded that the danger is in Africa; but as the mysterious flu spreads throughout the suburbs of New York City, Shahzad struggles to convince them the attack is in their own backyard. An intriguing (and frightening) look at a possible future where (as Shahzad’s father quotes to him) “Computers have blurred the line between child and adult, because in the land of computers, children are the men, and the men are the children.”

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