- Code Orange
Mitty is a nice guy but an indifferent scholar at his New York private school, and to him advanced biology is merely the place where he connects with the lovely Olivia. When each student is required to research an infectious disease, his last-minute planning leads him to some old medical books, in which he finds an envelope full of scabs from a 1902 smallpox epidemic. Thinking the scabs will make a nice gruesome presentation feature, he opts to research smallpox; as he researches, he realizes the power of the disease that may still lie in those scabs and begins to grasp that in handling them he could have signed his death warrant—and much of the population's ("The city would go through hell, all because Mitty Blake had done his homework for a change"). In an understandable but dangerous move, he tries to acquire up-to-date information from web boards and subsequently finds himself a victim of terrorist kidnappers who wish to use the virus that might be growing within Mitty as a weapon. Cooney demands considerable athleticism of readers' credulity (the vague terrorist entities hit a particularly cheesy note), but she manages to keep the suspense level high anyway as Mitty counts away the days of the incubation period, secretly wondering if his report subject is brewing inside him. [End Page 79] Mitty's growing relationship with Olivia adds appeal, but the real interest lies in his ethical and pragmatic quandary: if it's too late for him to get cured himself, how can he protect others from the disease, and is suicide the only possibility? The epidemiological information laced through the book comes in manageable chunks, and it's chosen for maximum impact, making it an atmosphere enhancer rather than a plot slower. With its unassuming protagonist unwittingly stumbling into major crime and his own heroism, this is kind of a Dick Francis junior, and youngsters looking for swift pace, high stakes, and an everyguy at the center of it all will find this infectious.