Author: Yvonne Ventresca
Published: May 6, 2014
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Even under the most normal circumstances, high school can be a painful and confusing time.
Unfortunately, Lilianna’s circumstances are anything but normal. Only a few people know what caused her sudden change from model student to the withdrawn pessimist she has become, but her situation isn’t about to get any better. When people begin coming down with a quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat, Lil’s worst fears are realized. With her parents called away on business before the contagious outbreak-her father in Delaware covering the early stages of the disease and her mother in Hong Kong and unable to get a flight back to New Jersey-Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread illness and fatal disaster. Now, she’s more alone than she’s been since the “incident” at her school months ago.
With friends and neighbors dying all around her, Lil does everything she can just to survive. But as the disease rages on, so does an unexpected tension as Lil is torn between an old ex and a new romantic interest. Just when it all seems too much, the cause of her original trauma shows up at her door. In this thrilling debut from author Yvonne Ventresca, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons.
A huge thank you to Skyhorse Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review!
I’m not going to lie, I was definitely a little wary of this book based off of its synopsis – I was afraid it would be cheesy and cliche. But, I ended up racing through this book – I think I finished it within 3 hours, and, while it left me, a hypochondriac, feeling a little more than paranoid, I think it was an overall great read.
I have no complaints about Pandemic’s packaging – in fact, I really like it! I think it’s very minimalistic, but eye-catching, and that the birds do a great job of providing symbolism.
Ventresca is definitely a talented writer – she’s very descriptive about the world her characters reside in, and does a great job of communicating Lilianna’s thoughts and emotions to her readers. She weaves her story in a very compelling and captivating way, and manages to invoke emotions of anxiety and fear through her writing distressing scenes.
However, something that bothered me about the writing in this book was that the dialogue could be cheesy – sometimes, it just didn’t feel as though the characters were having conversations that actual people would have.
An example of this is when Jay says,
“What are you, stupid?!”
To which Lilianna replies,
“Stupid enough to put up with you!”
Now, let’s remember that these two are supposed to be sixteen years old. This sounds nothing like the way teenagers talk when they’re angry/frustrated with each other.
Additionally, the way that some of Lilianna’s trains of thought + actions were written just didn’t feel logical to me – especially when she, as a paranoid, traumatized girl, would put herself at thoughtless risk/not consider situations properly. <Spoiler> For instance, after Lilianna’s own house had been looted, I low-key had trouble believing that she’d willingly leave her house AGAIN a few hours later to go to dinner at Jay’s, who she barely knew at that time </spoiler>.
So, Lilianna isn’t the most memorable character in the world – she’s a hypochondriac, is ridiculously paranoid and a bit antisocial, has good intentions + is very genuine, but somehow, her distinct character isn’t ever made clear. Somehow, her voice almost blends into those of a handful of YA protagonists I’ve read about over the years.
However, there are some aspects of her personality that I absolutely loved. Namely, the fact that Lilianna always knew what she deserved, and accepted nothing less (thus beginning a really positive trend in this book of sending great messages to younger readers). It’s hard for me to explain this without any spoilers, but essentially, when people caused her pain and/or tried to dictate the way she ought to feel, Lilianna never hesitated to stand up for herself – she never let people get away with telling her she had been in the wrong when she had been a victim, and she never let people try to wheedle her or twist her arm into acting in a certain way.
For those of you who have read this book, here’s a specific example: <spoiler> When Mr. B went over to Lilianna’s house to ask for her forgiveness, bearing life-saving gifts (medication), while ill and potentially at risk of dying, instead of feeling pity for him/feeling obligated to forgive him due to his doing something nice for her, Lilianna slammed the door in his face and told him she would never forgive him. I thought this absolutely fantastic, and sent an amazing message to younger readers: you are not obligated to forgive people for hurting you, just because they do something nice to try and make up for it. You have every right to remain angry, and you do not have to forgive someone for causing you pain. This was a really, really great scene, and I applaud Ventresca for writing it </spoiler>.
Now, onto Jay Martinez. I really appreciated Jay Martinez. He was such a sweet and respectful character – I was a big fan of the fact that he always respected Lilianna’s limits and requests, and never pushed her to open up to him when she seemed uncomfortable. I think it’s really important for authors to emphasize this kind of behavior in books, in order to send the message to younger audiences that they deserve to be treated with such respect.
The only other character I really feel the need to mention is Ethan, Lilianna’s ex-boyfriend. I actually wanted to fight him throughout this entire book – he’s the perfect picture of the type of boy girls should not want to be in a relationship with.
I thought Pandemic was an extremely realistic depiction of how our day-to-day could change with the onset of a dangerous fast-spreading illness. Rather than Lilianna going on a dangerous quest/a life-changing journey in such dangerous conditions, this book is more about how she manages to survive and cope with her new realities, but manages to still be entertaining.
The first 1/3 of this book definitely lagged in comparison to the rest – it took a little while for things to really pick up, and for me to become completely absorbed in the plot. I think this is because of some of the cliche characterizations/storylines at the beginning of this book. I wasn’t a big fan of the whole “smoker goth, rebel without a cause, it’s me against the world” thing that Lilianna had going on, and the idea of Megs messaging and falling for a stranger felt too cheesy.
I also thought that some of the deaths that occurred in this book were almost too convenient, and Lilianna felt as though she recovered a little too quickly. I would have liked if the death that occurred in this book had had more weight to it, and if we had seen that Lilianna struggled with the reality of losing the people that she loved, rather than being told that she did.
However, the book definitely picked up during the middle and the end. It was then that we were really able to see the realities that the disease had left the characters with – it was definitely extremely nervewracking to read at times, and I found myself constantly worried for the safety and health of the characters throughout the book. Along with the action, though, Pandemic emphasized the idea that, even in terrifying circumstances, it’s still important to help others when possible, and aid those who are in need – I really enjoyed this theme (and the subsequent plotlines) throughout the book.
Something that I should definitely mention, though, is that I really appreciated Ventresca’s tact and respect in discussing more sensitive and serious themes in this book. <Spoiler> Lilianna was sexually assaulted before this book began, and I really appreciated the way that Yvonne Ventresca was sure to discuss the way that it affected her, her behavior, and her life. From Lilianna being uncomfortable with people making physical contact with her, to one of her closest friends questioning the authenticity of the incident (as, unfortunately, many people do to survivors of sexual assault), this book handled this, and Lilianna’s journey to recovery, very well </spoiler>.
Overall, while Pandemic may not be a favorite of mine, it was definitely a very solid read. If you’re in the mood for an anxiety-inducing, realistic, sci-fi about plague/disease while covering some very important themes, I would definitely recommend giving Pandemic a shot!