Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Contaminated with Clichés

About a year ago, I read an ARC of a book called Contaminated.  At the time, I thought it was a fun twist on the zombie sub-genre of YA lit, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I liked that Velvet, the protagonist, thought about her romantic relationships in light of the really bad circumstances of her world, and didn't pursue crazy love just because, you know, hormones.  Velvet dumped her cheating boyfriend, met a new guy, and actually married him so they would qualify for more rations.  She and Dillon don't seem to be actually in love, but she doesn't really complain, because she knows her family needs the food.  I don't know if I could ever do that.

Anyway.  While browsing the dangerous, tempting halls of ARCs, I discovered that--surprise!--there's a sequel called Mercy Mode.

Oh.  It was pretty horrible.  I feel like kind of a jerk for saying that, but there's really no getting around it.  I have nothing against the author, of course, and I wish her all the best.  It's just ... maybe we should have stopped after the first book.

So.  World-building rundown: In the never-ending quest to be thin, people start using a diet drink called SlimPro that actually seems to work.  Unfortunately, one batch got contaminated with prions (the things in mad cow that eat holes in your brain--literally) and everyone who drank the diet drink experienced violent outbursts, memory loss, and the insane urge to bite people.  They're zombies without the death part of the living dead.  Velvet says over and over again that being contaminated does not equal being a zombie, but from how they act, I'm going to go with ... zombie.  You know, a zombie by any other name would smell as rancid and so forth.

The world now has a massive population of violent, amoral shamblers, and the government figures out that if you pop them in the eye with an ice pick (yay lobotomy!) it helps.  By which I mean it scrambles their brains.  At first, all the contaminated (Connies) were exterminated.  Then, things got worse.  The scientists started experimenting.  Contaminated were fitted with control collars that monitored their agitation level, adrenaline, and so forth.  As long as the lights were green, the contaminated were safe.  If they blinked red, the collar went into "mercy mode" and euthanized the wearer.

Velvet's mom was contaminated, but she had been fitted with a collar and Velvet was allowed to reclaim her and take her home.  In the tried-and-true tradition of not leaving well enough alone, Violet removes her mom's collar with a paperclip (!!!) and yay!  Mommy is free!  Velvet has a younger sister, Opal, whom she tries to protect.  Their relationship is actually really touching and I liked how the first book focused more on Velvet's family issues and their survival than on fighting Connies.

And now here we are, in Mercy Mode.  All the things I liked about the first book: Velvet's ordinariness, the focus on the day to day, and her relationship with Opal, well, they pretty much disappear.  Evidently, the author realized that it's still en vogue to make the main character a Special Snowflake Who Doesn't Realize How Crucial She Is To The Survival of the Human Race.

Yes indeedy.

Serious spoilers ahead, so ye be warned.  Arrrgh.

So.  In the beginning of the book, Velvet totally pounds this cheerleading Connie she finds roaming around the woods.  You know, just to mess her up really badly.  After washing off the blood, she goes to collect the family's rations and starts a riot because this other lady takes her peanut butter.  As you do.  Look, honey, I don't care if it's the end of the world and you really, really want a PBJ.  If you are illegally hiding your Connie mother at home, you do not bring attention to yourself.

Then, she and Opal get the bright idea, months after the prion outbreak, to loot other people's homes.  Evidently, everyone else in their city has no clue, because all the houses still contain goodies.

The military starts doing mandatory testing where they stick needles into your eyeballs and scoop out bits of your brains, but Velvet always hides because she had a "sip or two" of her mom's SlimPro and is probably contaminated herself, despite showing no signs of infection.  She sees the military commit atrocities (here we can check the obligatory "main character witnesses military wiping out innocent civilians" box on the "post apocalyptic YA fiction worksheet") against Connies and non-Connies.

One day, Velvet's mother becomes totally lucid and recognizes her and Opal, but then starts seizing, so Velvet and Dillon do the only thing you would do in this situation: smuggle mama to a doctor who's "not really a doctor" who can help Connies.  Maybe.  This doctor actually used to work for the government, doing testing, but somehow she just managed to say, "I quit" and they're totally not monitoring her or anything.

jennifer lawrence oh yeah

AND THEN Velvet is captured by The Government and placed in the Sanitarium.  She finds out that yes, she is contaminated, but she has super-special genes from her dad and her mom.  Turns out that her dad is not dead--he just developed super-strength and healing abilities from the prions.  Her mom's brain miraculously repairs itself.  The doctor, Dr. Donna (I am not making this up) who wears Louboutins (still not making this up) during the middle of a zombie apocalypse tells Velvet that genetically, she's got the best of both.  Ergo, Velvet is a superhero.

In addition to being sadistic, Dr. Donna is also supremely stupid, because Velvet pulls some juvenile stunts and manages to escape and remove the collar they've placed on her.  She goes back to Dillon and kisses him a lot, only without feeling since she doesn't really love him, but they're married so oh well kiss kiss kiss.

Seriously.

THEN since Velvet is so stinking smart, she fails to realize that once she escapes, Dr. Donna will take the ones she loves--specifically, her mom and her sister, Opal.  Now, obviously, Opal has the same genetic abilities, if you will, as her sister, but Velvet doesn't get that through her super-awesome thick skull until Opal is kidnapped and taken back to the Sanitarium.  Of course, Dillon and Velvet rescue her, but at the same time, someone stages a terrorist attack on the Sanitarium and Velvet loses track of her mother and her father (who is, by the way, alive).

Velvet, Dillon, and Opal hop on top of a train (they do not hop on Pop) and escape to an area with fewer Connies.  I was so relieved this was over.

To make room for the Velvet-as-superhero storyline, Garner tosses out any attempt to maintain a coherent storyline.  There's a big fuss about having a chicken and a puppy in the beginning of the book, but these animals just disappear about halfway in.  Velvet never comments on them.  The elderly woman they've been taking care of is also captured when Velvet is, and she just assumes that their friend has been killed, and moves on.  What???

It was almost a physical relief to finish this.  I'm so peeved and disappointed that it didn't improve on the first book.  I have a feeling that I may have overrated the first book due to my relief at the lack of a love triangle, but that's no excuse for this book.

Stay away.  Mercy Mode is contaminated with clichés.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
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