The novel is written completely in letters to Leo, the main character's former best friend. It's one of the few novels where letters work. Keeping the perspective in close first-person POV also works, letting the reader piece together the puzzle with Kaelyn, not before or after her. The story maintains a perfect balance between what's known and what's unknown.
The story starts with a lot foreshadowing. A dead bird here, someone with a strange cough there, before building into the island completely shutting down with the deadly virus. Because as the reader you know it's a book about a virus, the foreshadowing builds an atmosphere of foreboding and you're looking at everything as a possible clue.
Kaelyn is a likable main character. She feels isolated and alone. Rather than whining, moping and feeling sorry for herself, she deals with it. She's in the process of trying to be the "new Kaelyn" and actively trying to improve her life. Like any teenager she occasionally falls into self-pity, but she keeps on trying to live her life. She's a little introverted, thinks too much and misses her former best-friend Leo who is currently off-island. Without being in the book, Leo's a constant presence because of Kaelyn's letter. You feel like you know him without ever meeting him.
The book moves at just the right pace--not so fast that it forgets to leave clues, but not so slow that you feel like it's dragging it's feet. Kaelyn wants to figure out what's causing the virus, why some people survive and wants to protect her family. Over the course of the novel she becomes a strong heroine, helping the community survive rather than curling up in a shell-shocked ball and avoiding the world. (Which is what most people would do).
Kaelyn wants to be a scientist so she's always observing what's going on around her. She's a teenager, but she's a smart teenager. Kaelyn doesn't hold back in the letters. They're her confessions and she records everything that she sees happening on the island.
"You know, for all the talk you hear about "Mother Nature" and the harmony of the natural world, the truth is, nature doesn't give a crap about anything or anyone.
Below is another quotation I love. To me, it just rings true. It's teenage angst but who hasn't felt like this? It's one of the reasons I find Kaelyn completely believable.
"If there is a God I would punch him in the face ten times harder than I ever kicked Quentin."This book is a dystopian virus-sweeping-the-world done right. It keeps its scope small--focusing on the impact in one community following one girl's perspective. You see the government panic, the people panic and how when everyone starts dying the world just falls apart. But you also see the strength of the people who try to put it back together again. I kept expecting Kaelyn to give into the mope, and she did for about 2 pages before regaining her grip on reality. She's a heroine forced to become strong for those she loves. She doesn't want to save the world, she just wants to save the people she loves and protect the people around her.
The characters are what makes this novel work and stand out in the sea of fast-paced, unrealistic dystopians. The novel doesn't look down on teenagers, but allows them to be human, make mistakes and grow up over the course of the story.
I think the main reason I liked this story so much is that I found it believable. It didn't seem so far-fetched, Kaelyn felt like a real teenager and her motivations weren't grand, they were grounded. Somehow that's refreshing.