Two years after a diet drink with genetically modified ingredients transformed countless Americans into mindlessly violent animals, the Contaminated are controlled by electronic collars, and the unclaimed are housed in kennels like that in which Velvet Ellis, 17, finds her mother.
Over-the-top premise notwithstanding, this suspenseful series opener is rooted firmly in the real world: ours. With her father dead and her mother a Connie, Velvet’s suburban middle-class existence is a distant memory. She and her 10-year-old sister, Opal, scrape by in subsidized housing, partly supported by Velvet’s menial nursing-home job. The girls’ shaky hold on normal life is finally upended when Velvet brings their mother home, facing anger and fear from neighbors and eviction from their landlord. Stubbornly compassionate Velvet hopes to disprove the conventional wisdom that contamination is permanent, but even if she’s wrong, she won’t abandon her mother. Too tired to keep up with schoolwork, abandoned by her longtime boyfriend, Velvet never stops seeing—and treating—the contaminated as human. If her steadfast opposition to the institutionalized cruelty of the private sector and the government puts her in danger, it also insures her own humanity against the calamity of treating others inhumanely.
Velvet’s a child forced into early adulthood. Echoing the reality millions of young adults worldwide face daily, this dystopia speaks to a wide range of readers, including reluctant ones. (Dystopian adventure. 12 & up)