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VIRALS by Kathy Reichs

RazorBill (Penguin) 2010.

454 pages, hardcover.

Reichs makes a solid YA debut with this spin-off of her Bones series, following 14-year-old Tory Brennan–niece of famed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan–and her friends as they uncover a decades-old murder and a contemporary scientific conspiracy. Along with friends Hi, Shelton, and Ben, Tory–who lives largely unsupervised with her new-found father on an island off the coast of Charleston, S.C.–discovers a secret laboratory and rescues a dog. When an experimental parvovirus from the canine transfers to the teenagers, they are imbued with superhuman physical and mental powers and become the target of a group of killers. This intertwines with the story of a long-buried body, as well as teen drama surrounding the local debutante scene, into which Tory has been unwillingly thrust. Reichs juggles the large cast and layered story well, although the revelations at the end get a little silly. Still, the action en route is exciting, and the forensic science and research is as vital as in Reichs’s adult novels, even in the more science-fictional setting. Ages 12–up. (Nov.) Publisher’s Weekly

I am not sure I could add anything useful to the above comments by Publisher’s Weekly, but when has that ever stopped me.

–I picked up Kathy Reichs’ VIRALS because I am a huge fan of the television show Bones and I was curious how her foray into YA might go. I have been meaning to try one of her adult fiction novels but I have yet to…so no good comparisons to offer there. After reading VIRALS I can say that it is certainly a upper-Middle-grade to YA read and a good sci-fi adventure novel for girls.

–The cover has this quote: “If you like the TV show Bones [I do] or Maximum Ride, you’ll love VIRALS. Tory Brennan has gifts, and she really knows how to use them.”—James Patterson.

A bit crass on a few levels, but the author of Maximum Ride is correct. If you like Maximum Ride you will love VIRALS. They have a lot in common, Reichs just takes it up a notch by steeping it in stronger logic. VIRALS is more Sci-Fi than Fantasy. Still, it is Supernatural Fiction…

–Hits much of the check-list for popular YA fiction. Romance, triangles, goofy side-kick, supernatural aspects, cute puppies, tall dark and moody, mr. popularity, girl who is hot but doesn’t know it, an attitude-driven first-person narrative… Actually, I would like the list because I am tempted to read a YA with it in hand. I know there is one out there.

VIRALS should appeal on many levels, and largely to female audiences. The boys in the novel tend to come off as weak or manipulative jerks, or both. But then, who could measure to the incomparable Leader Tory? In the novel she is Temperance Brennan’s Great-Niece, but really she is Booth and Bones’ love child: his intuitiveness and general bad-assery and her arrogance and intellect. I think if there had to be a Booth-like equivalent, I suppose Ben fits the bill…but why should there be. I don’t think Reichs intends to be a complete knock-off for the sake of fandom.

–Reichs successfully sets up a franchise (a pack of super-humans) without neglecting the murder mystery or adolescent angsts. She pulls it all into a neat twist in the end that I didn’t see coming.

The pace is slower than Maximum Ride (which reads like a ride) but VIRALS does just fine with moving the reader through plenty of heart-thumping actions sequences, and a great deal of peril.  There is some drag in the story in getting it going, and during “Incubation” but  Reichs jumps right into the story (minimalized backgrounds fed as we go) and the building is necessary—and interesting. The story isn’t wholly asking for suspension of disbelief.

Although, there is that Matrix-slo-mo sequence there at the end. I literally snorted with disbelief. The superhero antic was completely embraced in that scene—wow. Oh, and the telepathy, that was strange. Do wolves have telepathic powers? Thankfully, the Virals have yet to come with a costume/uniform when out perpetrating B & E.

–I understand there are complaints about VIRALS containing words too difficult for teens. And heaven forbid a Reader should have to use a dictionary. As I am not a teen, I cannot speak to the vocab-difficulty, but I can find the complaint whiny. Shame on Reichs for using big words rather than completely assaulting (and undermining) the Reader with adolescent cliché.

VIRALS should be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in YA fiction that likes a well-planned but fairly light adventure/mystery featuring a strong female protagonist. The daughter likes Maximum Ride, I’ll have to run this one by her; although she just discovered Agatha Christie and can one ever go back after that?  I think YA Readers should embrace Kathy Reichs, give James Patterson and Cassandra Clare some competition.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. ibeeeg says:

    sounds interesting. My 13-year old does love shows like Bones so maybe she would like this one. I will put this on list of books for her. I am glad that the vocab is rich. I do tire of “dumbed-down” writing for kids. The boy issue…”weak or manipulative jerks, or both”….that is troublesome for me. I really have tired of books that weigh heavily in one direction or the other with men and women…boys and girls. I think it is an awesome thing when a story complements both sexes; shows the good and bad of both instead of heavily one way. Ahhh well…that is my issue, the book will still go on the list. 🙂

    1. L says:

      would be interested to see what she thinks. barnes & noble had some reviews by teens and they swung different ways (that was where the vocab argument was featured most prominently).

      the boys in the ‘pack’ were not idiots and yet were somewhat stereotypical in their roles. they stepped up when Tory seemed incapable or not knowledgeable but ever her in authority or under her spell. it registered faintly throughout and irritated full at the end during the ‘wrap-up’ “You didn’t tell anyone about our powers did you?!” “No, Tor, we’re not idiots.”
      I, too, much prefer an empowered female lead written in without sacrificing the male characters…

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