Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci
Short Review: Welcome a the post-9/11 world in which terrorists wield bioweapons and our best intelligence is gathered online by teenagers. Kept me listening and then made me hunt for the sequel.
Long Review: This book is an interesting combination of the lives of an assortment of teens, but it is far from the typical high school drama. The book opens with the death of Cora’s mom. Cora is a loner at school, which we quickly learn has a lot to do with the mom who came home from a life as a photojournalist injured and addicted to morphine.
As the story moves forward, we meet Scott Eberman (paramedic), his brother Owen and Owen’s friend Rain Steckerman (both popular high school athletes), Shahzad Hamdani (teenage computer hacker in Pakistan) and Tyler Ping (teenage computer hacker in New York). The story is told in a round robin of first person, cycling through this assortment of high school students who have all been pulled into the center of an act of bioterrorism.
With six readers, I do list this as a ‘Full Cast Audio’ book – but it isn’t really. Each voice is tied to a single character and tells their part of the story. It is a good set of voices – though I did like some better than others. That might have a bit to do with my preferring some characters over others, but it certainly wasn’t enough to take away from the enjoyment of listening to this book.
I find myself writing this review on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and it is definitely a story that is informed by that event. It spends a lot of time chasing down terrorists via what they term ‘v-spying’, an abbreviation of virtual spying done by computer hackers trying to watch for, translate and convert into usable intelligence the online chatter of terrorists.
It is definitely an intense and suspenseful story, but in the end this is a story about six teenagers and their lives. Some of it is about being in the wrong place at the wrong time – but it quickly becomes clear that each person in this story has their own opportunity to take action. For these six, their choices and experiences reach far beyond the personal sphere – but in the end they are still teenagers. A good deal of the narrative traces the inner journey that every teen has to take as they navigate their way to adulthood.
I don’t want to tell you any more details for fear of spoiling some of the suspense. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed it and quickly sought out the sequel.