by Amy Tintera
Crown, 2022. 343 pages.
Review written February 9, 2024, from a library book
2023 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
The premise of this book set in the not-too-distant future is that the entire city of Austin, Texas, was quarantined for a deadly virus with a 40 percent mortality rate. Eventually, they built a wall around the Q to keep people from escaping. Twenty years later, there is still no vaccine because the virus mutates too quickly and antibodies don’t help, though people inside have developed artificial organs that are keeping everyone alive. The Q seceded from the United States and is ruled inside by two rival gangs, each with their own territory.
Into this scenario, Lennon Pierce falls from the sky.
It’s election year, and Lennon is the son of one of the candidates for U.S. President. His Dad has been speaking up for the Q, trying to come up with helpful solutions, while the incumbent president is talking about nuking the whole thing, including the people inside. So someone kidnaps Lennon, takes him up in a helicopter, and drops him into the Q with a parachute.
Lennon lands in the south, in Lopez territory, and unfortunately, the only exit from the Q lies in the north, in Spencer territory. Fortunately, folks in the south have developed a temporary vaccine for the virus, and they give Lennon a shot of it right away. The US government knows about the vaccine and tells Lennon he can leave if he gets out within 72 hours.
Unfortunately, Lennon arrives just in time for an attempted takeover and a power vacuum in the south. A much-needed shipment of supplies is being held up by the north, so Maisie Rojas, teen daughter of the former Lopez enforcer, decides to go with Lennon to the north. She’ll get him to the gate, and he’ll help her recover the shipment. Unfortunately, the new would-be-leader of the Lopez clan would rather just fight — and hold Lennon as a hostage. Not to mention that folks in the north aren’t exactly open to letting people walk through their territory.
What follows is a heart-racing adventure. This was a book that was hard to put down. When I almost had it finished while waiting at the doctor’s office, I absolutely had to take the book to work and finish on my lunch break. Yes, there’s plenty of violence, in a place that has a wild West vibe. There’s also a nuanced romance — though of course if all goes according to plan, they’ll never see each other again after Lennon escapes from the Q.
Now, mind you, I don’t actually believe the book’s premise is possible. In the age of jet travel, I find it hard to believe that you could ever confine a virus to one city. Somebody would have left the city long before they figured out the virus existed and exactly who had been exposed. But that’s just background, and once I glossed over my disbelief in that, I was completely invested in the situation Lennon and Maisie faced.
Based on the Acknowledgments at the back, the author started this book before the Covid-19 pandemic and never thought it would get published once that pandemic hit. I think reading it today does make the setting more believable — at least that the government would try such a solution, even if I don’t think it would actually work.
Some favorite moments: Finding out why Lennon got arrested three times in the past. Maisie learning to trust in her own abilities as a leader.
I read this book because it’s a Cybils Finalist for Young Adult Speculative Fiction. And I’m happy to say that the panel did a great job picking this book. Read it for a thrill ride that’s also full of sweet moments.
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
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