In her first novel, Ventresca pulls together three unrelated themes to create a medical thriller/romance.
Lily’s had trouble coping ever since one of her teachers, Mr. B, attempted to sexually assault her, an attack that’s only gradually revealed. In response, she’s taken up smoking and dressing in a sort of lazy version of goth, and even though she was an honor student, she’s begun cutting classes. Now, with her father away at an infectious-diseases conference and her mother in Asia, the abrupt appearance and rapid spread of the often lethal Blue Flu has pushed her to the brink. Not only are looters roaming her neighborhood and dead bodies piling up in homes, but Mr. B is stalking her. Further complicating matters, previous love interest Ethan and likable neighborhood smoking pal Jay are competing for her affection. It’s challenging to give all three threads—disease, sexual assault and teen romance—full attention. Even though she’s obviously conflicted, Lily’s monthslong emotional meltdown feels somewhat contrived, especially since she reacts capably as civic response to the contagion falls far short, those close to her sicken and die, and she accepts, if reluctantly, responsibility for caring for children—including an infant—orphaned by the disease. With the scarily rapid spread of the disease and the resulting crumbling of society offering ample peril and suspense, the sexual-assault theme adds little.
Still, this realistic page-turner will keep most readers enthralled. (Thriller. 12-16)