Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She follows instructions and relaxes her hair, dates the perfect boyfriend, attends the uber-class day school, and is on track for a perfect Ivy-League future. Yet at a high class party for DC’s elite, a chance meeting with a shadowy Homeland Security agent and a careless word leads to Bird waking up eight days later in the hospital, with fractured memories of the night.
While Bird was out, the world has gone insane: a deadly virus is sweeping the world, forcing quarantines, curfews, martial law. And everyone is certain that Bird knows something- about the virus, about her parents’ scientific work- about something she shouldn’t know. The only one she can trust is Coffee, the school outsider and drug designer who has always been on the edges of Bird’s life. As Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, they find that what Bird knows may be more than either could have guessed- and could bring down more than their shadowy Homeland Security agent.
I am in love with the richness of Johnson’s prose and the diversity of the characters. Readers are put on notice from the start that this isn’t going to be another prep adventure book, and that Emily Bird is already struggling to realize herself. She’s trying to fit into her boyfriend’s and mother’s ideals, yet straining against the constraints. When Paul introduces her to Roosevelt, the agent whom he’s trying to land a summer job with, and Emily makes a chance comment, the catalyst is dropped and the reaction is on. Every action leads directly or indirectly to the next, and the tension ratchets steadily throughout the book.
Unlike a lot of bio-thrillers, the tensions and action isn’t isolated to agents and counter-intelligence. The drama and lines between family, friends, race, orientation, class, and relationships add to the dimensions and complexity of the storyline, and add more to the portraits of the characters in Johnson’s book.
I really liked that every chapter is titled with a chemical agent and its molecular formula, and that there’s a direct correlation to that chemical in the chapter, even if it’s not obvious at first. The first chapter, [androstadienone], is the start of the party, where readers meet both Paul and Coffee and learn about Bird’s reactions to them; androstadienone is the chemical name for what’s commonly called the “love hormone.” I also liked the connections between the title and the song; teen readers may not recognize it, but the artfulness can be caught later with Bird’s nephew’s interests. I also appreciate how realistic the plot and the reaction scenarios are throughout the book. This book can very easily be a near-future scenario without any jumps in logic, and that makes it scarily eerie.
The only part that I really disliked was that it seemed that some secondary characters dropped out for a while, only to pop back up again when you least expect them. I would have imagined to see more of Paul, especially with the importance placed on him in the beginning, and Felice as well, yet they dropped out of the story for a portion of the book. The other iffy part is the realistic side of me that says, OMG, this is a beautiful book that I want to get into everyone’s hands- but how am I going to get them to read it? Higher reader/ intense reading teens while love it, but teens who are completely into the subject matter could pick it up and put it down easily, the fickle ones.
There are SOOOO many!!!!! For this book I’m going to have to go with two: Thanksgiving, and when Bird and Coffee head to her house when the quarantine is almost over. Those two points seem pivotal to me, two watershed moments where they make Bird who she needs to be in the story.
This one is one that I’d definitely put at the higher end of teens. There’s sex, drugs, and a lot of complex topics, so it’s definitely teen, and I’d place it at 14 and up. I’d also recommend it for Teen and also Adult Reading YA Bookclubs- there’s a lot of topics that can make for a huge discussion, and it would be so interesting to hear it played out.
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