Monday, October 27, 2008
Streams of Babel - Carol Plum-Ucci
I thought this was a terrific page-turner of a book. I actually read it a little more slowly than I might have otherwise because I didn't want it to end. The events are a little unbelievable, but I found myself not really caring about that because it was a compelling story and focused a lot on character, which if you've been reading my blog for long, you'll know is really important to me. Like Plum-Ucci's other books, this is a mystery novel. Unlike her others, it's also a bioterrorism story. Those who have read her other books or who read and enjoyed Code Orange will likely enjoy this book quite a lot.
This story is told from multiple points of view - called a "split narrative. This has the effect of keeping readers in suspense - just as one character's situation comes to a head, she moves on to the next character's plight, and readers are left hanging for several more (short) chapters before they get back to Cora or Scott or Owen. This certainly works well in this novel to develop tension.
The characters are primarily teenagers - some here in the States, and one in Pakistan. The Pakistani boy, Shahzad, unlike some other terrorism novels is NOT one of the terrorists, but rather a hero working first from Pakistan then from the US to help try and find the roots of the Red Vinegar threat he's uncovered on the Internet.
Shazad is a computer genius at 16! Each of the characters in the story has his or her own quirks, and yet through this experience they all find other people who befriend them in spite of their issues. I think this is a powerful lesson for kids who often think that if someone isn't just like me, I can't hang around with them. It also shows that we all have weaknesses, and that those don't have to define us even though they're part of us.
I do worry that this type of book feeds into what I feel is sometimes an over-hyping of terrorist threats. Sure, we need to be prepared, and yes, obviously some people don't like the way our country does business and might want to hurt us. However, I don't want kids to begin to think that everyone's out to get us, and that they need to be afraid of doing normal things. For that reason, I'd recommend this book for 8th graders and up.