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March Book Discussion - Virals

P&P - Elizabeth - standing in breeze on
 

Up until this point, Kathy Reichs wrote only contemporary fiction – murder mysteries with a forensic anthropology twist; Virals was her first foray into young adult literature. I found Reich's work through the television show Bones and have been a fan of her Temperance Brennan novels for years. At first, I was hesitant to delve into her new series. I enjoyed her previous one, and I had the attitude of why mess with a good thing? Plus, the book was meant for teenagers. Then I entered graduate school, and I took the course which inspired this blog. No longer operating under my once false impressions of YA Lit, I was curious to see what Reichs would do with a younger heroine. Tory Brennan did not disappoint. Following the previous setup, I'll explore Virals below by answering a series of questions. Please, as always, feel free to join in. Answer all the discussion questions; answer only one. Another option is simply to respond to my own comments. Whatever tickles your fancy. The point is that I would love to hear from you, too.

Virals by Kathy Reichs

1. So, Temperance Brennan has a niece. If you've read Reich's other series, did you believe this revelation? Did you accept Tory's introduction?

Yes and no. While it wasn't difficult for me to accept the fact that Temperance's nephew, Kit, had a daughter who had resulted from a tryst many years prior, especially in light of his mother's... whimsical nature, Tempe is such a cerebral character. It was more difficult to accept the fact that she had not mentioned a sudden niece in any of her previous tales. However, I could allow this to slide, because perhaps the timeline doesn't meet up. Maybe Kit didn't learn of Tory until after the close of Reich's last Temperance Brennan novel. With that said, in order for Tory's validity as a character to be established, we need to hear about her connection to Tempe from Tempe herself; Tory's word just isn't good enough. So, the next Temperance Brennan book better at least mention the latest addition to the forensic anthropologist's family. Also, as a side note to this question, I did not like the fact that Tory's last name is also Brennan. It was just too far-fetched, too coincidental. As Tory said herself in the book more than once, coincidences just do not exist. It was almost like Reichs was trying to present Tory as a younger, formally uneducated version of Temperance but in a modern day and age rather than regressing in time to tell Tempe's backstory. But then there's also the whole
viral aspect of the book, but more on that later.




2. What about the other members of Tory's pack – Ben, Hiram, and Shelton; did you enjoy their characterizations?

 

I'm not sure if it is the world that they're interested in – science, but both Temperance Brennan and her niece, Tory, seem to be more comfortable around men, more comfortable with having male friends. This is just another thing the two women have in common, and it was showcased in Tory's selection of friends. Granted, she was limited because of how narrow and small her community on Morris Island was, but she left the Island. She went into Charleston, attended a school with kids not a part of her small community. Yet again, though, because she was a part of that community, most of the other kids at her school ostracized her, so, in a way, she was still limited in her selection of buddies.

But, really, that's immaterial. The point is this: do I like Ben, Hi and Shelton, and the answer is yes. While their characterizations were somewhat contrived – one Jewish kid, a computer whiz, and the muscle, they were still entertaining characters. I especially liked the comradeship and humor that existed between the four friends. The art of sarcasm was not lost upon this pack, something that I was thankful for. In addition, if I'm reading the writing on the wall correctly, there is room for some angst... of the romantic variety... further on down the road between this close-knit group of friends which should prove to shake them up quite a bit. But more on this a little later.




3. Everything that happened in this story started with Tory's fascination with dogs, particularly the wolf, her mate, and their two wolfdogs which lived on Loggerhead Island – the Island where Tory and the other kids' fathers worked. Was this believable for you?

Yes, it was, mainly because – and I'm going back and comparing Tory with her aunt again here – Tempe is an animal lover, too. Plus, and this is a total stereotype, but, as someone who loves science and wants to be a scientist, I expected this fascination with animals from Tory. Given her aunt's personality and her own, the fact that Tory was so obsessed with the wild wolf and her pack on Loggerhead Island was perfectly natural. Furthermore, the progression of the mystery also worked for me. Puppy went missing, a puppy that Tory was especially attached to given the fact that she saved it. Puppy was discovered in a secret lab
after the kids also found a dog tag they wanted to identify, their motivations still completely innocent at this point. Puppy gets them sick, unintentionally, of course. And then everything snowballed from there. Because the character motivation was there for Tory's interest in Cooper, the fact that the mystery snowballed out and away from him worked.




4. Speaking of the mystery, what about the book's villains? Were they believable?

And this is where the novel, in my opinion, was its weakest. Oftentimes, the villains felt extremely contrived. First, there was Karsten. He was an old curmudgeon of a man – the cold, heartless scientist experimenting on animals and believing himself to be above the kids intellectually. Although he was revealed to be corrupt... somewhat, he also wasn't completely evil, just misunderstood.

Next, there were the kids at school – the rich and beautiful snobs who did not like Tory and her friends because they weren't wealthy as well. Associated with them was the typical prep school behavior and archetypes – designer clothes, fancy cars, lacrosse, and that one cute boy who looks past the unwritten but clearly understood social rules to like the girl who is real, who is different, who is the relatable heroine. However, she doesn't like him, because she only has eyes for the school's Golden Boy who, in this case, turned out to be a villain... along with his equally golden girlfriend.

Although I applaud the fact that Tory's immature crush (because, let's face it – she knew nothing about Chance but liked him anyway, so, hence, the immaturity aspect) was proven to be not so Golden in
her eyes, perhaps making her appreciate more those standing right before her and causing her to question what she's attracted to, I didn't like the fact that the two characters who most represented this stereotypical class of teenagers turned out to be two of the novel's villains. It just seemed too predictable, along with the fact that Chance, the kid who spoke out against his privileged, senator of a father, was really willing to do just about anything to protect Daddy and his own privileged lifestyle. And making the senator the man behind the initial murder which started this whole crazy sequence of events in the first place also rang a little too trite for my taste. I also wondered if somewhere there was a little bit of a personal agenda being played out in the delineation of good and bad in this story, if Reichs was using her characters to make a personal point, to express her own opinions on society, politics, and social classes.




5. So, there's been mystery, but nothing goes better with a little mystery than a little romance. Anything developing on that front?

While Tory might not be able to see it, I thought it was pretty obvious that Ben had feelings for her. Perhaps he's not even aware of them yet himself, but they're there. He's the quietest of the bunch, the definite alpha male, and she's the only female in their group. It would make sense that they would eventually gravitate towards each other. Plus, he was also extremely territorial around her when she interacted with any of the other Bolton Prep
male students. Although Ben didn't seem to be threatened by either Shelton or Hi – he had, in a way, already asserted his dominance over them, and I think it was made quite clear that there could never be anything romantic between Tory and either of the other two boys, the same cannot be said about Jason, the one boy at Bolton who befriended her, who stuck up for her despite what his other friends said and did. Ben was decidedly chilly around Jason.

At this point, Tory claims that there is absolutely no attraction on her part towards Jason. However, she also had a crush on Chance who turned out to be working against her, who held a gun on her and her friends, and whose girlfriend seriously would have killed her and the rest of the pack if they wouldn't have been able to best her. I would think that would make a girl question her initial judgment when it came to attraction. Plus, it's obvious that Jason is attracted to her. In fact, he might even have feelings for her. If nothing else, they're friends... in a way that's different than how she is friends with Ben and the other members of their pack. Because Tory will continue to see Jason at school and at the various Deb events Kit's girlfriend is determined to send her to, he's not going to suddenly disappear from her life.

In my book, between these two males, I think eventually it'll be time to cue the triangle. And I think it'll be an interesting one. While Tory is obviously connected to Ben through their mutual
otherness, what if she wanted something for herself that was separate from the pack? Then again, the fact that they're so closely knit together could, on her part, develop into a brotherly-sisterly relationship, putting a crimp in Ben's romantic feelings, and leaving her open for Jason. Now, this is all conjecture on my part, but, as I've said, I like a little romance with my mystery, so I'll be looking forward to see how this all plays out if Reichs decides to turn Virals into a series.




6. So, this otherness, what exactly is it? Do you like it? Would you have preferred the story be more of a traditional mystery without the somewhat supernatural element tossed in for flavor as well?

I like the supernatural. I find it compelling when such an element is added to a story, not only because the unknown can be intriguing but also because the supernatural can be so representative of other human conditions or situations, especially since Tory and her friends were already outsiders; this – the virus and the side effects – just made them more so. In addition, because YA novels tend to exist somewhat in a vacuum, at least where adults are concerned, their new powers help tell the story, because, as kids with limited resources, it wouldn't be plausible for them to miraculously be able to solve a murder case that had been cold for more than 40 years whereas professional law enforcement officers could not.

As for how they got those powers in the first place, unlike Tempe, Tory, and her father, I am not a scientist. I know the basics of DNA but not the details, certainly not enough to determine whether or not it would be possible for human DNA to meld with wolf DNA. Over thousands of years, we've evolved, but could such a change actually occur within a week's time? I find it highly unlikely, but, still, at the same time, it is somewhat connected to science, not mystical like the creation of most other supernatural entities. This helps. And if
Virals was a stand alone series without any connection to the Temperance Brennan novels, then I would be perfectly alright with this.

However, it's not. Because Reichs connected
Virals to her long-standing, very much rooted in fact, very scientific and exact Temperance Brennan novels, I'm struggling with the separation here. First, when they see each other, I find it hard to believe that Tempe would not notice something is different about her great-niece. Secondly, because these two worlds are connected and do not exist separate of each other, they need to be molded from the same reality. That means, if the science is possible for Tory and her gang to become part human/part wolf hybrids in Virals, then that same science needs to exist in the Temperance Brennan books and, so far, it doesn't. Even if it did, if the science is not feasible, then it would eradicate any credibility Tempe and the Temperance Brennan novels possess. Frankly, I find this aspect of the book... or should I say books?... messy.

I don't like messy.




7. Final conclusions? Impressions? Would you like to see another Tory Brennan book; would you like to see Virals turned into a series?

Despite my above complaints – both about the villains and about the impracticality of Tory and her friends'... condition, I
would like to see more of these characters. While Virals wasn't perfect, it was still quite enjoyable, and I have faith in Reichs to tell a good story. Eventually, I'd like to see her smooth away the wrinkles that exist between the two series (if, in fact, Virals becomes a series), but, even if they are not, I'd still be able to read both and be satisfied with the tales I'm given.

Just one thing, though: do criminals
not wear gloves anymore? Not only were Tory and her friends able to lift a professional criminal's fingerprint, but they left a whole trail of them behind on their own well-intentioned crime spree. Think how quickly and easily they would have been caught if someone would have thought to check for their prints in any of the places they broke into. They were so smart otherwise and took so many precautions, it just seems like this oversight was a lack of common sense on their part, something that I want to see corrected before I spend time with Tory, Ben, Hi, and Shelton again.

P&P - Elizabeth - standing in breeze on
This month's book discussion selection is Virals by Kathy Reichs.

From the famed author of the Temperance Brennan Series, the books which inspired the television show Bones, Virals is Reichs' first foray into Young Adult Fiction.

According to Booklist:

Tory Brennan, transplanted from New England to South Carolina after her mother’s death, is getting used to life with her hitherto-unknown marine-biologist father when life throws her a curve in the form of an odd virus. Along with her friends—a multiethnic group of science nerds all living, like her, on a remote barrier island—Tory finds a set of military ID tags linked to a missing-person’s case. The subsequent sleuthing exposes the gang to a disease, leaving them with heightened senses that flare when they’re in danger. They get plenty of opportunities to exercise their powers of intense sight, smell, and hearing in this suspenseful, if a bit exaggerated, plot-driven novel by the creator of the Bones TV drama. Despite one-dimensional villains, the book flows and is full of snappy dialogue guaranteed to draw in adventure junkies. Grades 6-9. --Karen Cruze

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