Speculative fiction that deals with apocalyptic futures always generates a lot of questions. In a way, it’s part of the pleasure of reading those end-of-the-world books, because it offers readers a chance to consider what the not so distant future may be like (well, sort of). I’ve read a fair few of these stories, so I was curious to see how Shaunta Grimes would create a new twist on this topic. Despite the intricately laid out plot and excellent characterization, there were some ways that “Viral Nation” felt like there were a few too many…time loops that left me more confused than intrigued.
While the plot begins with the end of a plague-like viral outbreak in the US, the real story centers on Clover, a sixteen-year-old autistic girl who is smart and determined to go to the Academy and her brother West who is wrongfully accused of murdering his High School crush. In this futuristic world, people are forced to take an injection each day to ward off the virus. As per usual in the YA apocalyptic world, parents are scarce (and most often intimidating), as are resources.
Grimes puts a lot of good ideas into this post-apocalyptic Reno, such as the use of time travel, catching criminals before crimes are committed and the idea of Time Mariners (who are the workers permitted to conduct missions in the future). However, I was curious to know more about the time travel and would have liked to see it be more instrumental in the final outcomes. I mean, hey, if you had a portal to the future wouldn’t you kind of want to check it out just a bit? While some of the rules of this world were outlined towards the end (i.e. only autistic people can time travel and then only for half an hour), I wanted to see these rules addressed.
Clover’s character was the most likeable. Her quirky blend of sometimes blurting out the wrong things in social situations as well as her curiosity helped to draw me further into the narrative. Her character shows the most growth throughout the novel, which made for a more solid story-arc. Clover and West’s father’s narrative leaves much to be desired in the way of growth or plot development. Although his struggle was clear, whether or not he came to grips with this difficulty was ambiguous. I enjoyed the banter between West and Clover; the budding romance between Jude and Clover has potential for future installments in this series, but only served to muddy up the already meandering plot.
Despite some potential, the series has flaws. If you are patient and love to read stories about post-apocalyptic worlds, this is an interesting read with some intricate details. I can’t say that the payout of this book is great, because it’s not. In time, we’ll have to look to the future to see if this series reveals more answers in the coming installments. Grimes leaves a lot of holes in this space-time-continuum with “Viral Nation,” which makes me wonder: how much intrigue is too much?
*Thanks NetGalley & Penguin Group for the Advance Reader Copy!