The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe (Hyperion, 2012, YA, 320 pages)
16 year old Kaelyn made a vow that this year she would be different. She would turn her attention away from studying the fauna of her Canadian island home, and try to find a place for herself in the world of her high school (saying "hi" to people is her first step). She would try to come to terms with her lingering grief over the loss of her best friend, Leo, who left to go to school in the US, who broke her heart (though he didn't know it), and to whom she never said goodbye.
But the fresh start that Kaelyn had hoped for never gets a chance to materialize. Instead, her island is hit with a viral epidemic of monstrous proportions. As the list of the dead grows ever faster, the island is quarantined by the government. In a new world of fear, looting, violence, and the inescapable reality of death, cut off entirely from the outside world, Kaelyn must indeed re-invent herself, and become someone strong, and brave, and capable--doing what she can to keep life going for her family, her friends, and for herself.
What struck me most is how ordinary much of the book seems (apart from people dropping like flies). It has to be classified as speculative fiction, because the viral epidemic hasn't happened, but it is so convincingly likely that it doesn't seem speculative at all! And the characters--Kaelyn, her family, the two new friends she makes, are all essentially ordinary people. Her society doesn't suddenly collapse into dystopia, but falls to bits in tiny increments, as "normal" ceases to have any meaning. It is the meeting of this realism, crossed with horror, that made the book grip me so very much.
And it helped that Kaelyn was an interesting person--she's biracial (I think her mother's family is the only black family on the island), and I wouldn't be surprised if she fell somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum. Even though she grows in confidence, and enteries into a really very nice romantic relationship (given the cirumstances), she never gets to triumph in YA loner heroine makes good style (mainly because most of her classmates die, but still). Because the story is told in the form of journal entries to her friend Leo, the reader gets to know her, and care about her, with a depth of focus that made her very real, and very believable.
The Way We Fall ends with a proper ending, but there will be more two more books--and it is rather anxious-making to imagine that the quarantine didn't work, and the virus is making its way across the mainland, destroying Kaelyn's hope that she'll have a chance to rebuild a normal life anytime soon...