Friday, May 27, 2011

Teenage mutants

I've seen the television program Bones once or twice, but never had any yen to read any of Kathy Reichs' books about her forensic pathologist heroine, Temperance Brennan. Dr. Brennan evidently has a niece named Tory (I'm still not clear on their relationship since I thought I heard that Tory's grandmother and Temperance were sisters, which would -- of course -- make her a great aunt). I guess Temperance was too busy to take her in, since 14-year-old Tory is now living with her 31-year-old father, a marine biologist working at a the Loggerhead Island Research Institute off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Tory's mother died recently in a car accident, but hadn't bothered to tell her erstwhile lover that he was a father. Both father and daughter are taking tentative steps in forming a relationship at the beginning of Virals.

Tory lives on the island and commutes by ferry to her elite prep school with three male classmates whose parents also work for the Institute. The four -- Tory, Ben, Hi[ram], and Shelton -- are science-y like their parents and provide mutual support at a school that seems more interested in wealth and social status than academic excellence. They explore the barrier islands using Ben's Boston Whaler and hang out in an abandoned bunker. Poking around one day, they uncover a very old dogtag and Tory -- who has inherited her aunt's nose for a mystery -- wants to find out more. Late one night they break in (they do this frequently and always successfully) to the lab at the Institute and uncover two mysteries:
  • The dogtags belonged to the daughter of the soldier named on the tags and she disappeared as a teenager 40 years earlier.
  • A wolfdog puppy infected with parvovirus is caged up in a secret room in the lab building.
The teens rescue the dog and pursue the mystery of the missing girl. Cooper, the puppy, has been infected with a special strain of parvo, a strain that -- unlike conventional canine parvo -- can transmit to humans. The teens all get what seems at first to be a severe case of the flu, but once they've recovered they realize it's left them with something else: When they experience extreme emotion, they experience super-heightened senses and physical reflexes as well. They call this reaction "flaring." The four begin to refer to themselves as Virals.

I didn't really care for this. I found the writing particularly overwrought and melodramatic, and the author has no feel for teenagers. Their dialog was largely expository and sprinkled with awkward slang, plus a liberal amount of swears. Nothing seemed a barrier -- not homework, transportation, or even locked doors and armed guards. Now that I think about it, the author has no feel for adults, either. Everyone is cartoonishly evil or ridiculously clueless. This sentence that I rewound and listened to again seems to sum it up: "My practicality tempered my roiling emotions." Oh, really?

The narrator didn't improve things. Her name is Cristin Milioti and --while sounding young enough to read Tory's first person narrative -- she raced along with an emphatic-ness that popped and pounded every word she said. She had the teen speech patterns down pretty well, considering that the teens weren't actually talking like teenagers. Milioti was able to differentiate the novel's many characters, but she often did this with a caricature-ish Southern accent. It seemed like all the bad and/or stupid people were South Carolina natives and all the others spoke generic mid-Atlantic. Everyone eventually blended together.

There's some appropriately atmospheric music interspersed in the story, and when the teens experience flaring, there is this crescendo-ing whoosh! sound that brackets the event. Considering my aversion to most sound effects, this works rather well. Of course, the first time I heard it, I was out walking in the early morning and had to turn around to see what was making that noise behind me.

The public library shows up a couple times in Virals. Or rather the liberry, which is how Milioti pronounces it. OK, call me oversensitive. I suppose I should be grateful that the teens actually visited the library and used its online and print resources (microfilm!)! And then there was this odd little plot development where the villain paid a librarian $1,000 per year (for 30-40 years) just to let him know when someone visited the library asking questions about the disappeared girl. Imagine that villain thinking that the library would be the first place someone would go looking for information!! It makes me quite lightheaded. But wait ... what about patron confidentiality?

Unless your a Reichs fan, I'd give this one a pass. For a more interesting look at teens with superhuman powers, try this (reviewed here by me). Dare I say I even liked this more? I think it must be the mists of time obscuring my reason.

[The animal pictured is a wolfdog named Ralph, who lives at a sanctuary called Full Moon Farmin North Carolina.]

Virals by Kathy Reichs
Narrated by Cristin Milioti
Penguin Audio, 2010. 9:40


Abby said...

Ha! So funny because I am actually listening to this one right now and quite enjoying it!! While, yeah, a lot of the stuff that happens is implausible, I like that Tory is a kick-ass gal who's running with the boys instead of preparing for cotillion. And I like Cristin Milioti's voice - it's kind of husky and (to my limited knowledge) rather unique among a lot of high-pitched, sweet-sounding narrators doing teen girls. I think the effects are pretty well-done, too, and that's something that normally bothers me.

leecat said...

Hi Abby ... yeah! Tory does kick ass and run with the boys and she likes science! Great role model ... except for that constant need to break into locked places. Like you, I enjoyed Milioti's husky voice, but her constant punching of the consonants to pronounce every word thoroughly (except library) grew wearing. To each her own! Thanks for reading.