Today’s book review is for Contaminated by Em Garner, published by Egmont USA. I received an electronic copy of this text from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Contaminated is a novel for young adults and teens, set in a dystopian near-future. When a trendy diet drink started to turn people into shambling, murderous creatures unable to control their impulses, society starts to crumble. Luckily the government is able to step in to round up those who have been contaminated and neutralize the problem–the first step to getting back on track. Since the contamination, 17-year old Velvet Ellis has been juggling school, work, and parenting her little sister, Opal. Then, after months of searching, Velvet finally finds her mother at one of the “kennels” for the contaminated, and her life is turned upside down again. She’s told that her mom will never recover from what happened, but it’s not long before Velvet starts to question that assertion. Is it just foolish hope, or can the contaminated improve? And will she be able to hold her family together when the world seems to be doing everything in its power to tear them apart once more?
I have to say, Garner has come up with an incredibly compelling plot. As soon as I read the book synopsis I was eager to request a review copy. Not only was it an interesting twist on the zombie trope, it also pulled in the moral questions of dystopia. Heck, there was even a little jab at diet culture and consumerism. What’s not to love? Unfortunately, quite a lot.
First, the pace was ploddingly slow. From the description, it sounds like the sort of book that would have a lot of action and intrigue–but it doesn’t. Very little actually happens. I was halfway through the book when I had the realization that nothing really significant had happened. Then, I realized that all of the cool-sounding plot stuff wasn’t the primary story. The primary story was the story of an adolescent, Velvet, having to grow up before she was ready–learning how to navigate the world of adulthood. She spends most of her time worrying about laundry, the food budget, keeping her sister in school, how to support her family, all while caring for a mother who has essentially the same problems as a patient recovering from a major stroke. It wasn’t a bad story–it just wasn’t the one that was advertised.
Then there was the problem of Velvet. The entire story is told in first person from her point of view. The problem with this is that Velvet isn’t all that interesting or likable as far as narrators go. She’s too flat, too catty, too irritating. Fortunately I liked Opal and I was interested to discover what would happen with their mother. Otherwise, I’m not sure I could have tolerated the narrative voice. Velvet’s inner monologue is incredibly redundant and exceedingly boring. That’s because, as mentioned earlier, she spends a lot of time thinking about mundane things. She’s also so judgmental and catty that when other characters are hostile toward her it’s hard to feel much sympathy. I think it’s supposed to be an indication that she’s hardened by the trauma of her experiences, but it read as mere pettiness.
Here’s the thing, though. In the last hundred pages or so, stuff started to get interesting. New cases of contamination started to appear. The media started to shut down. Soldiers and police started asserting more control. And even though Velvet was still focused on her family, it raised a lot of questions for the reader. Then, it ended before any of those questions were answered.
So, even though there were some problems with this book, I’m hoping that there will be a sequel. I don’t really care about what happens to Velvet, but I do want to know more about the world she’s living in. Which means I’m giving Contaminated 3 out of 5 star rating. Because, for all that I didn’t like about it, I still liked it enough to want to read more.
You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.