Lord of the Flies is such a seminal book that most people were assigned to read it at some point in school. That book seemed so chocking, but it shouldn’t be. The veneer of civilization is thin. We like to pretend that we human have evolved and would maintain our ethics and sense o fair play in any situations, but how long would any of our polish and manners last given the worst of circumstances? The novel Quarantine by Lex Thomas updates that question. You don’t have to be stranded on a remote island to get in touch with your baser nature, as David, the main character quickly finds out.
David is the quintessential All-American boy. A member of his high school football team, actually the star quarterback? Until the death of his mother he has been dating Hilary, who is what else? A cheerleader. He seems to have the perfect teen life until his mother’s accident that triggers a series of events including his girlfriend cheating on him with his teammate Sam, who David punches in a jealous fit, the ripples of that moment carry throughout the book When David arrives at the high school for his senior year and his little brother’s freshman year, he was already expecting trouble. What he was not prepared for was the bombing on part of the school, watching his teachers all die because of a disease the teens have been exposed to making them lethal to all adults. Quarantined by the government into what is left standing of the high school,, without adult supervision and traumatized and near starving, the teens inside quickly devolve into violence. Almost amusing is the fact that like any high schools with cliques, the teens organize themselves into gangs, though only the Nerds and Varsity are recognizable as similar to a normal high school click, the Freaks, Loners, Sluts, etc. are much more sinister than normal high school cliques. Like any teen group, each dresses to represent their affiliation, but in this case attire is meant to intimidate and even cause bodily harm as items taken from the school like spikes and nails are integrated into outfits.
Sam, David’s nemesis from the team, leads Varsity who due to their athleticism are able to scoop up the majority of food and supplies from the government’s drops, the rest of the groups have to hustle to gather enough to survive. Unlike the Lord of the Flies, the fact that this is a co-ed high school does add another dimension. Without adult supervision, without knowing if they have a future, and without having much to do, obviously sex is prevalent and for some of the girls it’s a form of currency of survival, particularly The Pretty Ones who all date Varsity and are led by David’s ex Hilary. For some of the female population of the school, the threat of rape is very real. That’s how Lucy enters David’s life. David who had become persona non grata with Varsity even before the quarantine, life has been difficult. He takes care of his epileptic brother and supports them by hiding in an elevator shaft and washing clothes to earn food and things to trade. The government has communicated to the students that the seniors at the school will be released once they have ‘graduated’ meaning the disease has left their body. A booth has been set up to take an automatic blood sample and if the results are clear, the door to the outside will open. David worries what will happen to his brother when he leaves.
One day David sees Lucy sprinting to a booth, not to ‘graduate’ but to hide from an attacker and instead of staying under the radar, David instinctively tries to help and ends up accidentally killing a member of Varsity making him a marked man. Seen as a heroic figure by a group of high school misfits, he is recruited into becoming the leader of a new gang, the Loners, a role that causes friction with his brother, as does the growing attraction between David and Lucy who it turns out has been the girl Will has always had a secret crush on.
High school even without a life or death lockdown can already be brutal for many teens. The recipe of teen immaturity, quest for identify, hormones, and rebellion is a dangerous recipe. How many readers of this book think they would have been able to take the high ground as David tries to or think they would become a Sam? How many adult readers with teens of their own wonder about how their own child would handle such a situation?