Contaminated, by Em Garner (Egmont USA, 2013). $9.99, ISBN: 9781606843543
Recommended for ages 14+
If losing weight was easy, everyone would be thin – or so the saying goes. But when the diet drink ThinPro hits the market, no one can argue with the results – it tastes pretty good, too, so people are drinking the stuff like it’s Gatorade. One huge problem, though – to keep up with demand, the manufacturers start messing around with the formula, and it becomes tainted with something like Mad Cow Disease. And that something makes holes in people’s brains, contaminating them and turning them into rage-fueled maniacs.
Contaminated begins in the aftermath of this outbreak that left most of the US decimated. The Contaminated – called “Connies” – have largely been put under control by the government; first, through forced lobotomies, now, through the use of collars controlled by electrodes put into captured Connie’s brains. Velvet, a 17 year-old who lost her father and mother to the Contamination, has been struggling to take care of herself and her 10 year-old sister ever since the outbreak. She constantly checks the neighborhood kennel, where Connies have been released to be claimed by family members, for her mom. One day, she finds her and brings her home.
The thing is, the government is keeping a lot of secrets now, and there are whispers that the Contamination isn’t under control. Connies are being taken into custody again, whether or not they’ve been claimed by family, whether or not they’re contained by their collars. Velvet struggles to keep her family together and her mother hidden, especially when Velvet realizes that her mother is improving. As her Pennsylvania neighborhood becomes more and more of a police state, how will she keep her family safe?
This isn’t a zombie tale, the walkers aren’t back from the dead. It’s an infection tale, rooted in a concern over what we’re putting in our bodies and what this stuff really does to us. The infected are rage-zombies, if anything; they lose the ability to connect with society and just want to inflict violence. We get the story through Velvet’s eyes as she lives through the fallout of the infection. She’s a teenager forced into adulthood too fast, with a 10 year-old sister who frustrates the hell out of her, but whom she loves and clings to for a sense of normalcy in the middle of insanity. She fights to keep her sister in school, even though she questions what the heck school is going to do for anyone now, in this new era humanity is in. She works awful jobs to keep her family afloat. She has the added burden of caring for her mother, a shell of a woman retrieved, like a stray animal, from a shelter. It’s a tense story, it’s a story of survival, and finally, it’s a story about family.
Short story: I LOVED this book. While Velvet is the only character that is really developed, she’s all we really need, because it’s HER story. The situation? Frighteningly plausible and will make you look at that weight-loss drink a lot more differently. If you’re into post-apocalypse stuff, grab this book, but don’t expect Walking Dead scenarios with walkers taking bites out of people in the streets. Like the best zombie stories, this is a story about how humans cope with the end of their world.