May 19, 2012

Review: Streams of Babel

By: Carol Plum-Ucci
Published: May 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Hardback, 424 pages
First Reviewed: March 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
Add it on Goodreads

Don't drink the water.

Bioterrorism has come to a small town in New Jersey. Two residents die of brain aneurysms within twenty-four hours and several teens become ill with a mysterious flu, leading the government to suspect that a terrorist cell has unleashed a deadly biochemical agent. With each glass of water they drink, the people of Trinity Falls are poisoning themselves.

A world away in Pakistan, a sixteen year old computer genius working as a spy for the U.S. sees an influx of chatter from extremists about a substance they call Red Vinegar that will lead to many deaths. Can he warn the victims before it’s too late?

Rating: 3/5

So I got this book because I had bought its companion novel without knowing there was a first book. The sequel sounded more appealing, but I still wanted to give this a shot. It was just okay.

Considering this takes place not too long after 9/11 and a lot of this deals with Middle East/New York stuff, I thought Plum-Ucci was as original as she could be without making it unrealistic. What I was missing, though, was the feeling of the setting. All I got was that it was a small town, but I never really felt that small-feel. Overall, though, it was a good setting.

The characters weren't too well developed to me. Six main characters and quite a few minor characters, I think development would have been hard for any author. I don't think Plum-Ucci achieved what she set out to do with these characters. Only in some places. But overall, the characters were pretty boring. For the most part, I didn't care what happened to them. Not all of them had distinct voices (considering this is a six-part narrative, that's important) and some of the personalities were dull. I think a lot more should have went in to developing the characters. I liked a couple of them, but I would have liked to love all of them.

Eh, the writing didn't do much for me. For one, I could not for the life of me figure out why Plum-Ucci put only two of the six narrations in present tense. I couldn't figure it out! And if anyone has read this or ends up reading it, if you find out why, let me know, because I never understood it. Anyway, I didn't think the "wow" factor was there with the writing. It was just okay. Also, I don't think Plum-Ucci really captured emotions too well or handled the plot well. She'd put these elements in that didn't seem to matter, as though it was just something to make us feel something for the characters or scene, when instead, she could have put that energy into making the plot more engaging. But Plum-Ucci had some good parts, and I'm impressed with how much research this must have taken her, but overall, it was just okay.

Okay, nothing really happens in this book. Spoiler-ish (well, I kind of...not really if you read the description): Terrorists poisoned the water, spies find out, doctors save the teens. That's it. The sub-plots were so bland that I didn't even pay attention to them. The first...65% of the book was so boring that it took me days to get through. Then finally we got to some page-turning scenes, but then it just fell flat again. It was as though it just ended. What I liked is what Plum-Ucci tackled. The premise is a good one. Scary in the non-horror, realistic way. Like I said, there were some good parts in this book, but it was just okay.

It was an okay read. Worth a try. The subject matter and premise is what kept me reading. There are some good, page-turning parts, just not enough for me. I think--hope--I'll like the next book better. Also, if you want to try this, there is some strong language (though it's sporadic, which made it seem out of place).

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