Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Chronicle of Post-Contaminated Life

In a world obsessed with appearance and weight, it isn't a stretch to imagine a diet drink that really worked would become an instant phenomenon. In Em Garner's Contaminated, we see the unexpected outcomes of this obsession, and it ain't pretty!

Velvet bears the burden of her parents' relationship with ThinPro, the diet water everyone was obsessed with. When people around the country started going crazy, destroying and murdering at will, uncontrollable rage, an inability to feel or understand pain, everyone immediately thought the zombie apocalypse had begun. Kill at will was the standard reaction as the Contaminated began to attack. What they didn't realize until later was that the Contaminated, or Connies, weren't zombies. They were victims of something like Mad Cow disease after ThinPro illegally and unethically changed the source of its protein to animal discards from butchers and factories. They couldn't keep up with the demand for their product and it is better to mislead the public than lose money, right?! Well, that decision was catastrophic as those who drank the liquid became Connies and ravaged the country. Even the President wasn't spared.

Now Velvet takes care of her little sister, Opal, and works to support them, and scours the Connie Kennels each week in search of her mother. Her mother turned later than her father, so Velvet hopes she was spared the fate he most likely succumbed to- a bullet to the head. Once they figured out the source of the Contamination, labs were able to devise collars that would keep the Connies calm and able to be taken home to their families. Unfortunately, most families weren't interested in a rabid family member, so they left them to be shipped back to the labs from where they never returned. But Velvet wasn't going to let that happen to her mother, and when she finally located her, she was determined to bring her home. Unfortunately, the world wasn't ready for the Connies to be back amongst them. Velvet encounters more problems than she expected, not only with taking care of her mother, but also from the people around her. Velvet isn't someone to give in easily, though, and even though two years ago she couldn't picture herself doing the things she must do now, Velvet will do anything to keep the remainder of her family together. Anything.

The cover of this book looks pretty fierce, right? I'll bet you expect some serious "zombie" blood and gore scenes thanks to that cover. And the author praise on the jacket? "Relentlessly horrifying... a bone-chilling, riveting debut," says Ann Aguirre (who knows horrifying, and did it beautifully in the Enclave series). "Absolutely unputdownable" from Jennifer Armentrout. This all leads you to think of an action-packed story full of attacks, evasion, and survival. Sadly, that isn't what you are going to get from this book. Now, don't get me wrong, the book wasn't bad, but I was so confused by the complete lack of "zombies" or at least some wild Connies, that I found myself turned off by a book I might otherwise have liked had I not been misled. I am completely baffled by the billing that this book could at all compare to Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin or Charlie Higson's The Enemy or even Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which was must less crazy than the first two, but still had some zombie action). Instead, this book was all about the reconstruction and how everyone is moving on with their lives. There was one attack and a few flashbacks of news stories or an attack or two, but they were only back story- nothing to lead the plot. Instead, this is a story of hardship, family, and love and devotion, which I love, don't get me wrong, but could have been better with a little more of the action I expected to find. In fact, I think my disappointment jaded my opinion of the book, and I struggled to finish it as a result. 

Had I known this was a reconstruction book, and not expected something "relentlessly horrifying", I would have probably really liked this book. In fact, I really loved Velvet's character. She was one tough cookie. Even when adults tried to push her around or take advantage of her, she wouldn't back down. She was only interested in taking care of her sister and her mother, even if it meant being evicted from their government assisted apartment and moving back to their previously quarantined and now empty (and dangerous) neighborhood. I really liked this girl. She not only had guts, she was totally unapologetic about it. I only wished I wasn't swirling in disappointment when I started this book so I could have focused more on the pretty good story hidden inside. One complaint is that the story just ENDS! No real conclusion, no wrap-up, just done. I wonder if Garner expects to write a sequel, because there was no closure here. So if you are going to give this to a student, be sure to take the book jacket off- maybe then they would enjoy it. But this won't catch the attention of those action-craving boys, so I think the target audience is a little narrow. 

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