Book review: Compelling “Viral Nation” more than a dystopian novel

Book review: Compelling “Viral Nation” more than a dystopian novel

I could get lost in Barnes & Noble. Thank goodness for their late hours because if it wasn’t open until 10 o’clock every night I probably would have accidentally slept over quite a few times by now. I absolutely love books and I read quite a bit, but even I am guilty of breaking the No. 1 rule of reading: “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”

I hate admitting it, but that’s exactly how I choose my books. OK, that’s a lie, I read blurbs and check out the writing style, but the cover is definitely where I start. Imagine going to Barnes & Noble and nonjudgmentally reading the blub on the back of every single book before making your selection. You’d be there for months!

When I’m scanning the aisles for my next book, it’s the cover that catches my eye, not the content. But that’s what they’re there for. If they weren’t intended to grab the readers’ attention then every book would look exactly the same on the outside.

Reminiscent of the wildly popular dystopian series that are the craze right now, the green, futuristic cover of Shaunta Grimes’s book “Viral Nation,” definitely caught my attention. I read the back, flipped through the pages and decided it was the book for me. And I was right.

“Viral Nation” tells the story of 16-year-old Clover’s journey to save her older brother and caretaker in a post-apocalyptic America, after it was destroyed by the horrifying virus that stole the life of her mother along with most of the world’s population.

Clover Donovan is very brave, extraordinarily intelligent, and also happens to have autism.

After primary school she and her service dog are “drafted” into the Time Mariners, a highly specialized and very selective branch of The Company, the elusive system of government that dictates every facet of life in post-viral America. Through her work as a Time Mariner, traveling through time to discover secrets that can protect the nation, Clover discovers a nightmare that will soon unfold and threaten the lives of her entire family, but especially her older brother, West. In an instant, her entire world is thrown into chaos and everything she knew — or thought she knew — about herself and her country is suddenly not quite what it seems.

“Viral Nation” is swift moving with an addictive, suspenseful plot. It is the type of book that will keep you up all night glued to the page, make your heart race, and maybe incite an impulse to pull out your hair because of that inescapable, lurking oppression. But this book deserves to be acknowledged far beyond its captivating plot.  Legal flierflyerforLegallyBlonde copy

There are very few YA novels out that feature a main character with a disability. Just like the highly criticized media, books also tend to depict teenagers in an unrealistic way. Imagine Katniss Everdeen battling for her life in the “Hunger Games” from a wheelchair? It doesn’t seem to fit. But that is because when the rare book with a disabled character does come along, it is a stereotypical sob story about the challenges of surviving high school and bullying in spite of the disability.

“Viral Nation” is different. The futuristic, dystopian novel is about a terrifying race to save a life and discover the hidden truth about the government. It is not about autism, however. The main character — the brave, fierce heroine — happens to have autism.

Grimes makes subtle references to the struggles of growing up with a disability and to the struggles of the disability itself. At times throughout the novel, Clover faces discrimination and bullying, she has trouble dealing with social situations, and may flap or make other repetitive motions when she is overwhelmed. Her disability is a part of her and of the story, but it is articulated in a relatable, authentic way that makes it clear: Clover is a person, not a diagnosis.

Grimes’s story is artfully crafted and presents a typical teen story in a way that brings awareness to autism, and shows that being “different” doesn’t have to change anything. Clover is more than autism and “Viral Nation” is more than a dystopian novel. It is a compelling story that will connect with readers on numerous levels.

There is a part in all of us to be found in this book and I highly recommend it to everyone.

–Feb. 8, 2014–