When Ruby Behl and other 17-year-olds in Port Gibson, Mississippi, get together to play the traditional (but forbidden) game of spin the bottle, she gets the chance to kiss her crush, Wesley Fairchild. It’s only when she sees something on his forehead that she realizes that she’s made a terrible mistake: “That small rash means Wesley is Marked, and in under three years, he’s going to die terribly. And now, so am I.” It’s a symptom of the Tercera virus, which has ravaged the world for the past decade. Ruby presents herself to the authorities to be quarantined, even though the Mark has so far failed to appear on her own forehead. While in her cell, she reads the journals of her father, a prominent virologist who died when she was 6. What she learns changes everything: He created both the Tercera virus and its antidote, but he was murdered before he could alert the world to either. She also finds out that her mother didn’t, in fact, die while giving birth to her. Ruby—a science prodigy—may be the only person who can find the cure by following her father’s clues. Going forward, Ruby may not be able to trust anyone—except maybe Wesley, and her new friend, a security officer named Sam Roth. Overall, Baker’s prose is sharp and vivid (“Pain shoots up my arms and I bite down on an involuntary sob”), and she manages to immediately plunge her readers into the world of the novel. The story is swiftly paced and features some surprising twists and intriguing characters; for example, Aunt Anne, Ruby’s guardian, clearly possesses a few secrets, and later, Ruby encounters King Solomon, the leader of a religious cult. The plot doesn’t challenge the strict boundaries of the dystopian genre, but its combination of sci-fi, mystery, and teen romance still makes for a compelling adventure.
A promising YA debut about a girl’s search for a future in the wreckage of the past.