(Image from Barnes & Noble)
"Daniel shuddered. Orleans was a living city of the dead (163)."
After five years of devastating hurricane after devastating hurricane, the Gulf Coast region has become a half-sunken wasteland. When Delta Fever breaks out, sweeping through the already ravaged land, the American government has little choice but to contain the epidemic by any means possible. First comes sealed borders, a quarantine, then, in 2025, a massive wall is erected around the affected areas. No one is allowed in or out. It's the only way to protect the uninfected, the only way to survive the deadly Fever.
Decades later, inside the Wall, in a once vibrant city now forgotten by the outside world, teems a turbulent new society, born from tragedy, death and disease. Gangs, segregated by blood type, rule the moldering streets of Orleans. Survival is a daily battle. Fen de la Guerre, a 16-year-old whose O Positive blood means she carries the Fever, but isn't being eaten alive by it, does her best to keep a low profile. Blood hunters will do anything to get their hands on an OP, who can be sold as a blood slave to the highest bidder. Fen won't let that be her fate. She won't.
When her tribe is attacked one night, Fen loses everything—her home, her best friend, and her (always relative) safety. She's left with no one, except a newborn baby. Fen's not sure how she's going to survive, let alone keep a squalling infant safe. She's better off leaving the child behind. If only she could, if only she hadn't promised to protect the baby girl. But she did. Fen knows the only way to guarantee the baby's safety is by getting her out of Orleans, smuggling her over the Wall into the safer, cleaner Outer States. The only question is how she's going to travel so far with a baby, few provisions, and a jungle full of enemies thirsty for her blood.
When Fen meets Daniel Weaver, a scientist from over the Wall, it fills her with new hope—and new fear. If she helps Daniel, he'll help her. Or so he says. But if there's one thing she's learned from living in Orleans, it's that she can only rely on one person: herself. If Fen can't save the child, no one can. And if Fen can't save herself, then she—and her two companions— are doomed to a fate much, much worse than death.
I'm a big Sherri L. Smith fan, so when I discovered she had a YA dystopian coming out, I knew I had to read it. I hoped this very skilled writer would come up with something different than the usual post-apocalyptic fare and guess what? She did. While the world she's created has all the grim realities of other dystopias, it's got an even sharper edge to it—the blood trade. It's a chilling plot element, one I'm not sure I've seen before. That, along with the whole walled-dystopian-society-inside-the-normal-world and the teen-girl-trying-to-survive-with-a-baby-in-tow thing just made Orleans a much more original story than most of the YA dystopians I've read lately. Plus, Smith's an all-around good writer. She's given this story a vivid, haunting setting; a tough, unyielding heroine; and a relentless, pulse-pounding plot. It's not a perfect book (Daniel's pretty bland; the baby's way more complacent than any I've ever encountered; etc.), but overall, Orleans sucked me right in and blew me clean away. I loved it.
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence, and references to sex (including rape)
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Orleans from the generous folks at Penguin Young Readers. Thank you!