Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage “sci-philes” who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.
As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot–if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer’s scent.
Fortunately, they are now more than friends– they’re a pack. They are Virals.
Science and technology lessons are woven throughout this fast-paced adventure story. Most notably, the reader learns how sonicators work to remove layers of grunge from an object, how forensics are used to identify a human skeleton, how a person's fingerprint is obtained and then interpreted, and a bit about neuroanatomy. The four friends (referred to as the Virals) are very loyal and protective toward each other. They demonstrate courage and determination as they strive to solve an old murder mystery.
Hiram (Hi) is part of a Jewish family, but he does not like accompanying his parents to synagogue. Tory's dad (Kit) took her to church once; she recognized within 10 seconds he had never been there before and they never went back. Tory muses, "I hear the Big Guy's pretty understanding. I hope so." A couple of times, Tory thanks "various deities" when she isn't caught after breaking the law. Another time, she whispers a quiet prayer of thanks, but to whom she is not sure. In a time of distress, Tory thinks "Dear God in heaven!" After recovering from the parvovirus infection, Hiram utters a genuine "Thank God."
Early in the story, we learn that Tory was conceived when her parents "hooked up" at age 16. She was kept secret from her dad until her mother's untimely death, at which time she was placed into his care.
Tory came home earlier than expected one evening and found Kit and his girlfriend entangled (fully dressed) on the couch. They quickly separate when they see her.
While searching classmate Chase's mansion for clues, the Virals discover that his girlfriend Hannah sleeps overnight at his house when she shows up wearing lingerie.
The Virals are shot at on several occasions. Hi and Shelton use two broom handles to knock a gun out of the hand of a pursuer, and then proceed to knock him out with a blow to the back of his head. The scientist responsible for creating the mutated parvovirus was shot and killed. Hannah shoots at the Virals and accidentally shoots Chase in the commotion (he lives). Tory incapacitates Hannah by whacking her twice in the head with a human bone. When captured at gunpoint, Tory kicks her assailant in the crotch and hits him twice in the head with a rolling pin.
It is mentioned once that Tory is addicted to the caffeine in Diet Coke. Tory's deceased grandparents smoked, but this is a negative memory for her.
Expletives are disturbingly frequent in this story. There are at least 26 uses of the word "hell"; 16 uses of "damn"; 11 uses of "bastard"' 5 uses of "bitch(es)"; 8 uses of "God" (in vain); and 3 uses of "Jesus" (in vain). The word a** is used 5 times, but it is also used as "kicka**" twice, "jacka**", "Head A**", and "Dr. Dumba**." "S**t" is used twice by itself, but also shows up as "s**tless", "apes**t", "bulls**t" twice, and "Holy s**t." The word "Holy" is also put in front of "hell" and "crap." "Frick" (as in "What the...") is used 3 times and "pissed" is used once.
Kit's girlfriend is described as having "jacked-up boobs."
Tory doesn't call Kit a "jerk" to his face, but she thinks it. She also sarcastically thinks of stabbing Kit's girlfriend and receiving a medal for it. All of the Virals withhold information from their parents, including their serious illness after becoming infected with the virus.
In their quest to do something good by solving an old murder case, the Virals break laws and disregard adult authority figures. The Virals break into a research laboratory, a library, a lighthouse, and a mansion. When confronted in one-on-one interviews about the lab break-in, the Virals concoct an elaborate alibi and gloat afterward about how successfully they lied about their whereabouts.
The author does a good job making science "cool," and while there is some satisfaction at the end of the story that the Virals are able to use their smarts and their special abilities to solve the mystery, the way they reach their end point leaves a lot to be desired. The excessive, unnecessary use of profanity coupled with the law-breaking, disrespectful tactics makes this a book I cannot comfortably recommend to my children.