|In Short:||It's deja vu all over again, as much that is familiar in YA fiction is given a shiny new coat of awesome by an eminently accomplished writer.|
Learning about my aunt helped me
understand myself. Why I have to answer every
question, solve every riddle. Why I’d rather
read about fossilized raptors or global warming
than go shopping for handbags.
I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA.
|-- Tory Brennan|
When I am not reading Military SF, Urban Fantasy or Young Adult fiction, I am often to be found in the Crime section of the bookstore. I’m more of one for chick P.I.s like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone than any of the more gruesome, serial killer-y stuff, but I do have a fondness for Patricia Cornwell’s unfortunate medical examiner Kay Scarpetta and, of course, for Kathy Reichs’s intrepid forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan. (Though I’ll confess I came to the latter only as a result of Bones, and it took me several tries before I could finally forgive the books for not containing David Boreanaz within their pages.)
Nevertheless, when I learned that Reichs -- who is a storyteller of both skill and cunning, despite her less-than-ideal imaginary casting -- had written a YA novel with a paranormal twist, I could not have been more intrigued, and somewhat guardedly excited. On the one hand, this seemed like it might be the perfectly blended book for me. On the other… it all could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong.
Luckily, it didn’t, and what Reichs has delivered with Virals is a taut, suspenseful, amusing and enjoyable tale that also works as a beautifully-honed homage to… well, a whole lot of stuff that I like.
Our plot follows the exploits of one Tory Brennan, the 14-year-old heretofore unknown great-niece of the aforementioned Temperance. Upon the death of her mother -- six months ago, book-time – Tory had been commended to the care of her father, Dr. Kit Brennan, a marine biologist to whom she is a stranger. Tory is something of a prodigy (smart family, these Brennans), and is several years ahead of her contemporaries at the exclusive Charleston private school that she somewhat reluctantly attends. Her father’s girlfriend, the Southern Belle-ish Whitney, wants to present Tory to Society and Jason, a popular senior, has shown interest in her young self, but Tory would rather be studying; in particular, she has a fascination for all things canine. This ultimately leads to trouble for herself and her best best friends -- the enigmatic Ben, the rebellious Shelton and the wise-cracking Hiram -- when they free a poor wolf pup from the clutches of a misguided scientist, and end up (naturally enough) being embedded with wolf DNA.
And then they solve crimes!
Tory is one part one part Anne Shirley, one part Rory Gilmore, one part Buffy Summers and two parts Veronica Mars (with just a dash of Bella Swan -- but in a good way, I swear). The vibe of the book is largely that of those Children Solving Mysteries series many of us grew up on, very Hardy Boys or Trixie Belden or The Famous Five. (This last most especially because a lot of the action takes place on an island!) The kids even have what amounts to a clubhouse. And as for the pseudo-twist ending? More than a little Scooby-Doo.
And yet, despite its obvious pedigree, Virals manages to be a really fun time. It isn’t a difficult read, by any means -- indeed, one wonders at times if Reichs has mistaken Young Adult for Early Reader, considering the short length of her paragraphs -- but it is engagingly written in an unusual style (alternating first person and third person; not something one sees too often), and is a genuinely beguiling adventure... although “thriller”, as it has been called, may be overstating things a little. Reichs also does well with the Young Person Speak (unlike, say, Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s attempt in Legacies earlier this year), with Tory sounding very natural, and pop-culture maven comic relief Hi -- who provides most of the humor in the book, and is essentially Xander Harris’s less athletic, more scatologically-minded spiritual heir -- quite stealing the show.
True, there’s not a lot that’s new here -- even the superpowers-by-science isn’t exactly a new concept, for which I point to most of the Marvel Universe as Exhibit A – but it is what Reichs cleverly does with all this familiar territory that makes Virals a book eminently worth the reading.
If for nothing else than the pleasant trip down memory lane.
-- Rachel Hyland