Monday, April 28, 2014
REVIEW: YVONNE VENTRESCA'S DEBUT YA, PANDEMIC
Here is both the best and the worst thing about this debut novel (just released by Sky Pony Press): everything in it could absolutely, positively happen. It's the best thing because the word "credible" doesn't begin to cover Ventresca's characters and plot; it's the worst because the events the book describes are terrifying, and I defy anyone, teen or adult, to read PANDEMIC and not come away feeling at least a little less safe and secure in his/her own cocoon.
As it happens, 17-year-old Liliana's sense of security has already been plenty damaged. Not long ago, a well-liked teacher at her high school attempted to molest her. And when she revealed it afterward, and the teacher was fired as a result, one of Lil's two best friends actually rubbed salt in the wound by blaming her for "ruining [the teacher's] life." So, as things stand, Lil is down one best friend, as well as one boyfriend: she can't bring herself to confide in Ethan about Mr. B., but she can't think of any other way to explain to Ethan why she suddenly can't tolerate his touching her. The incident and its repercussions have changed Liliana from an excellent student and the Queen of Community Service at her school to a girl who has (unbeknownst to her parents) started smoking, whose grades have plummeted, and who secretly stockpiles emergency supplies in the hallway closet at home because she now knows all too well that terrible things can happen without warning to anyone, at any time.
So, ironically, in one sense Lil is better-prepared for disaster than the average teen, in that she owns a lot of canned food and a hand-cranked battery charger. In every other sense, though, she is in an exceedingly vulnerable situation. And, just in case this alone doesn't create enough tension, Ventresca ratchets it up by having both Lil's parents be out of town the weekend that news reports about a worrisome strain of bird flu start trickling in. (Full disclosure: Yvonne Ventresca is my friend, which does not mean that I would lie about her book. And even if I would, I don't have to! Check out her Kirkus review.)
At first, Lil's small New Jersey town seems to be the epicenter of the flu's appearance, but then its reach gradually spreads, first along the East Coast, then through the rest of the country, then through the rest of the world. Airports are shut down, people are quarantined en masse, and neither of Lil's parents can get back home to her, no matter how desperately they try. And no matter how traumatized Lil was before the pandemic even started, and no matter how much the pandemic pummels her over and over with new losses, the time comes when she has to move forward. With her pitch-perfect depiction of Lil, and her two-steps-forward-one-step-back reactions to the global disaster, Ventresca recognizes the fact that sometimes such disasters create opportunities for ordinary people to rise above their own painful circumstances, and rejoin their communities. Sometimes, disasters can even open the door for such people to become emotionally unstuck, and dare to find love. But the first step Liliana must take is to ask herself the question spelled out on the book's cover: "Who Can You Trust?"
Yvonne has promised to let me interview her about the book, but I think I'll try to be almost as good a friend to her as she's been to me, and wait until after the book's actual launch. Keep checking back here, though! And here's another interview with Yvonne, just to tide you over, of course.
P.S. This blog post has gotten almost a thousand hits! I hope all the people who've read it have then gone on to buy PANDEMIC. Here's a thought I just had today: I'm going to be interviewing Yvonne Ventresca soon. If you have a question you'd like me to ask her when I do, feel free to leave it in a comment to this post and I'll consider adding it to my own list of questions.