Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

After a virus claimed nearly the entire global population, the world changed. The United States splintered into fifty walled cities where the surviving citizens clustered to start over. The Company, which ended the plague by bringing a life-saving vaccine back from the future, controls everything. They ration the scant food and supplies through a lottery system, mandate daily doses of virus suppressant, and even monitor future timelines to stop crimes before they can be committed.

Brilliant but autistic, sixteen-year-old Clover Donovan has always dreamed of studying at the Waverly-Stead Academy. Her brother and caretaker, West, has done everything in his power to make her dream a reality. But Clover’s refusal to part with her beloved service dog denies her entry into the school. Instead, she is drafted into the Time Mariners, a team of Company operatives who travel through time to gather news about the future.

When one of Clover’s missions reveals that West’s life is in danger, the Donovans are shattered. To change West’s fate, they’ll have to take on the mysterious Company. But as its secrets are revealed, they realize that the Company’s rule may not be as benevolent as it seems. In saving her brother, Clover will face a more powerful force than she ever imagined… and will team up with a band of fellow misfits and outsiders to incite a revolution that will change their destinies forever.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Following the prologue, the book begins in the walled city of Reno, Nevada, sixteen years after the virus suppressant was discovered. Clover and her brother West live together in their family’s home, their mother lost to the virus and their father away working for the Waverly-Stead Company.

I wouldn’t say I’m a dog lover, but my favorite character in this book was the service dog Mango. He’s a steady and reliable companion for Clover. I also liked Clover and West, and I really enjoyed their sibling relationship. She relied on him for a lot of things — being underage she couldn’t even get her own food rations — but was independent and head-strong, too. I don’t have any experience with autism in my personal life, nor have I ever read a book with an autistic character, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Clover. I think Grimes does a good job showing the reader that Clover is autistic through her mannerisms — flapping her hands, not being able to stand noises and crowds, taking things more literally than they were intended — instead of telling.

Rejected from the Academy, Clover becomes a Messenger in the Time Mariner program, someone who travels two years forward in time to retrieve information and bring it back to the present. The information is analyzed and steps are taken to prevent problems from occurring. Problems like crime; people are arrested before they even get the chance to commit the crime. That’s one way to keep the peace, I suppose…I got a little confused when it came to the time travel, and once they started talking about time loops, I stopped trying. I just glossed over that part and moved on and it was fine.

After discovering some information about West’s future, Clover and West hook up with a group of homeless kids (the Freaks) of varying ages and they all. They’re forced to take refuge outside of the city (on the set of the old TV show Bonanza!) and, somewhat reluctantly, find themselves about to lead a revolution.

Jude, one of the Freaks and a boy who Clover first met at the Academy, is supposed to be Clover’s love interest, but I didn’t find him a compelling character on his own. He has potential, but he’s not there yet. Their romance, if you can even call it that, builds very, very slowly. There’s a girlfriend for West, too, but she’s very much a sideline character. She plays a major role in the story, but doesn’t actually get to do much.

There’s not really a cliffhanger, but the ending is left open for a second book. There are many unanswered questions and stories to be told, and I hope some of the more minor characters, like Bridget and Emmy, get larger parts in that book.

Photo credit: Jenny Rollo