Book Review: Quarantine
With as much passion as I loved Ender’s Game, that’s almost how much I disliked this book. I didn’t just dislike it. It actually managed to piss me off – and that’s a rare feat for a book.
Perhaps reading it right after something as marvellous and intelligent as Ender’s Game made its shortcomings all the more apparent. That was a tough act to follow, but it’s no excuse for poor writing and problematic content.
Let me start with a brief (spoiler-free) synopsis. Quarantine, by Lex Thomas (the pen name of two male co-writers) is the story of an American high school overtaken by a lethal virus that kills all adults it comes into contact with immediately.
Shortly after the virus is released, all the teachers die and the military swiftly seals the school off from the rest of the world. The government regularly delivers food and supplies, but otherwise the kids are left to fend for themselves inside.
Cliques (“tribes”) are formed, leaders are chosen, and chaos and violence ensue as the teenagers struggle to survive.
It actually sounded like a pretty promising premise. (Ooh, alliteration.) It has been compared to excellent books like Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games, so I thought I’d love it for sure.
I’ll begin with explaining why I disliked it, purely from a writing style viewpoint.
Yes, Quarantine sets up what could have potentially been an interesting study of human nature and sociology. It has all the dystopic elements of books like Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games, but lacks their depth, skill, and insight.
Quarantine lacks the quick-witted, introspective protagonist of The Hunger Games, and the smart political commentary of books of a similar genre. Instead, readers are stuck inside the heads of two protagonists (both pubescent teenage boys) which is mind-numbingly dull, and often frustrating.
My other beef with the storytelling is the way it kept skipping large spans of time. I understand why authors need to skip ahead through time if they want to tell a long story: of course, then it’s necessary. However, it’s where you break to skip ahead that’s important.
In this book, anytime something major would happen in the plot that would make me go, “Oooh, I wonder what’ll happen now? How will the students deal with this new development and organize themselves?”, it would just fast-forward to months later, when they’ve already finished dealing with it. I felt cheated, and this, to me, felt like very lazy writing.
It’s like they sped through all the potentially interesting bits, and slow-mo-ed through the boring “she likes him but I like her” bits. Ugh.
Overall it just felt like they were trying to capitalize on the popular genre of dystopian teen fiction, but without the wisdom or talent to do so in a compelling, intelligent way. (That sounds harsh, but I feel it’s true.)
Now I’m going to get into why it actually pissed me off.
There was so much problematic material in this book that I regularly groaned aloud. The whole thing just left a really bitter taste in my mouth.
Firstly, the entire book is so deeply steeped in male gaze. Now, I know the protagonists are both teen boys, so obviously they are going to see the world in a certain way. However, I’ve read lots of books told from the standpoint of young males (Harry Potter, Eragon, Ender’s Game, Gone, Game of Thrones, etc.), and none of them were so excessively and blatantly sexualizing (or desexualizing) of every female character they came into contact with.
Each female character was described in incredible detail, and on the flip side, I could barely visualize any of the males – such was the lack of physical descriptions.
The women were categorized in two ways. 1) Objects of lust, or 2) repulsive. One character, who was overweight, was repeatedly compared to farm animals by the narrator, which was just DISGUSTING.
Another thing I took issue with was that topics like rape and sexual abuse were used purely as vehicles to move the plot forward and were not treated with the respect nor gravity they deserve.
One good thing I will say about this book, though: one of the protagonists is prone to seizures, and it’s great that there’s finally some representation in fiction of characters with disabilities.
In closing: I won’t be continuing with the series, and wouldn’t recommend it to others. Skip.
If you need me, I’ll be back in Ender’s world. (I’m reading Ender in Exile now, which is beyond fantastic.) x