Friday, February 04, 2011

What We're Reading: Teens and Bioterror

I read Streams of Babel, by Carol Plum-Ucci, back in 2008, nominating it for my favorite teen read of that year; the sequel finally came out this past year, so I recently re-read the first one and headed on into the second. Together, they are a satisfying, exciting, and terrifying adventure, a tale of bioterrorism in New Jersey, of all the unlikely locales.

The story of the first book evolves from multiple points of view: It begins with high school student Cora Holman in Trinity Falls, whose morphine-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 arteries and veins. Then the book jumps to Karachi, Pakistan, to a 16-year-old computer hacker 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 by terrorists 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 in Trinity Falls, Shahzad struggles to convince them the attack is in their own back yard.

The sequel, Fire Will Fall, revisits the "Trinity Falls Four" (Cora Holman and three other teens from her neighborhood who were all exposed to the waterborne virus), along with Shahzad and his friend, Tyler, another computer adept, both of whom came too close for comfort to one of the terrorists and are now in jeopardy. This book is set only a few months after the events of the first, and I was right back there immediately, enjoying (if that is the appropriate word) this bioterrorist horror story from six vantage points. 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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