The best thing about being a nerdy girl is that chances are really good that your friends are also nerdy girls.  Which means that “get-togethers” with the girls will undoubtedly devolve into philosophical discussions about books over dinner and drinks.  It’s the best!  I’ve found out about a lot of good books through my friends, and hopefully I’ve passed along some good ones to them (I made my friend Nicole read The Postmortal – she loved it!).  The last time we discussed the books we’ve been reading, Nicole mentioned Partials, which I don’t think she had gotten far into,  but the little she told me sounded very interesting.  Two days later, I saw it in a bookstore and decided to give it a go.

Partials – Dan Wells

Now, I have this problem where I pretend I don’t have a hundred books waiting to be read and I just crack open whichever new one I’ve brought home.  This means that I still haven’t read, say, The Casual Vacancy, which I bought on its release date last summer, but I have now finished Partials!  This book was seriously so hard for me to put down, I read into the wee hours on more than one night until my vision started to blur.  Maybe it’s because I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but I actually can’t believe that I’ve never heard of this book before.  I was hooked from the first few lines:

“Newborn #485GA18M died on June 30, 2076, at 6:07 in the morning.  She was three days old.  The average lifespan of a human child in the time since the Break, was fifty-six hours.  They didn’t even name them anymore.” (pg. 1)

Partials pretty much starts with a punch to the gut, and manages to keep the momentum going for the next 468 pages.  Here are the basics:

In the 2050’s, the US created millions of super-human hybrid soldiers (Partials) to fight in their Isolation War against the Chinese.  After winning the war, the Partials were treated as less than human by their creators (only finding work as slave labourers), and they eventually rebelled.  In 2065, they released a virus (the RM virus) that killed about 99.96% of the humans in North America, and the remaining thousands left alive (due to immunity) created a safe community for themselves on Long Island.  After releasing the virus, the Partials mysteriously disappeared, withdrawing to the mainland and serving as a constant invisible threat to the human survivors.

Eleven years later, 16 year-old Kira Walker is interning at her local hospital as a medic, and witnesses firsthand that the human race is dying out.  You see, no infants have successfully survived the first three days after birth since the virus was released; while their parents may be immune, the babies are not.  Scores of researchers haven’t been able to solve this problem, but Kira (who is very smart) is given a chance to examine the problem in a new way, and she makes some exciting discoveries.  Meanwhile, the mandatory pregnancy law set in place by their government has created such a volatile political climate that the human survivors are nearing civil war.  Who is the real enemy? Can the human race be saved?

First off, it’s been a super long time since I’ve needed a dictionary to understand a book.  For Partials, I had to look up:

1) Kudzu: Basically, a fast-growing climbing vine of the legume family, now widespread in the southern U.S..  This word is mentioned so much that it made me want to smack somebody.  No other word is used quite so repetitively, though, so I got over it.

2) Isthmus: A narrow strip of land, bordered on both sides by water, connecting two larger bodies of land.

3) Phlebologist: One who studies the anatomy, physiology and diseases of veins.

4) Epicanthic fold: a fold of skin extending from the eyelid over the inner angle of the eye; common among Mongoloid peoples.

I was actually a little impressed that a YA book made me grab my nearest dictionary.  I read a lot of YA, so learning some new vocabulary from one was a little validating; like, Look! they’re not just for kids!

I feel like Partials combines some of the parts that I liked the best about the Maze RunnerThe Hunger Games, and even The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogies.  The Maze Runner books touch on the concept of science-gone-wrong and the lasting effects on society, but all of these books (to some degree) deal with the issue of a corrupt government exerting repressive power on its people, and a group of strong and capable teens questioning what they’ve been taught and trying to figure things out for themselves.  I feel that the main character, Kira Walker, also embodies the best qualities of Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Hermione Granger (the Harry Potter series).  She’s pretty tough, able to wield a gun and patch up her comrades with a skilled and steady hand.  She’s also incredibly smart; this girl almost single-handedly saves the human race where scores of scientists had failed before her.  I actually wish the book had been written from her point of view, instead of the third person, because I think it would have been interesting to see the inner-workings of her mind.  Lastly, I like the fact that Kira doesn’t become the centre of a love triangle which interferes with her purpose.  She has a boyfriend from the very start, but the poor guy is clearly never her priority.  It really doesn’t bother her much when Marcus disagrees with her, she still does exactly what she feels is right.  I love that!

Having said that, Kira is maybe one of the more frustrating characters I’ve come across in YA fiction.  She’s what I’d consider “book smart, street stupid”.  She has some kind of charisma or sincerity that makes her faithful friends agree to her really, really BAD and dangerous ideas.  Really BAD and dangerous ideas borne of her scientific mind considering only the end-result of a cure, and not so much the trivial steps in the middle to obtain it.  This means that she and her friends come up with detailed strategies to carry out her half-baked plans, and when everything falls apart a lot of people die.  I just found it strange that as a trained medic, especially one who has made it her mission to save what’s left of the human race, it doesn’t actually hit her until almost the end of the book exactly how many people have died as a result of her naiveté.  There were a few points during the novel where I really just wanted to slap her across the face and yell, “Your friends believe in your cause so much, they’re willing to die for your success!  Don’t be so careless with it!”

Fragments (2013)
Fragments (2013)

But for all that frustration, I can’t wait to buy the sequel, Fragments.  The teaser at the end of my copy of this book seems to suggest that this second instalment will follow Samm, the Partial who figured so importantly in Partials.  There’s a third book, Ruins, expected to be released in March 2014, and I’m sure I’ll snap up that one too.  There’s something irresistible about Kira’s dystopian world, full of faithful friends, deadly viruses and super soldiers.  In addition to this, Wells’ style of writing is so detailed and satisfying that it makes me want to check out some of his other works, such as the first book of the John Cleaver series, I Am Not a Serial Killer.  Dan Wells also has a website which overviews his life, his published works and his book tour destinations.

Bottom line: Partials is an interesting, action-packed read about a girl who sets out to save the last of humanity, only to discover that everything is so much more complicated than just a deadly virus.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA, as well as anyone who likes their science fiction seasoned with a little political upheaval.  As Dan Wells states in the dedication,

“Sometimes the hand that feeds you needs a good bite.”