Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Streams of Babel

Streams of Babel

Carol Plum-Ucci
For ages 14 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Julia Whelan and others
Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2011   ISBN: 978-1441771285

When Cora Holman’s mother dies suddenly, Cora is not surprised. Her mother has been a morphine addict for years and Cora has always expected that one day her mother would overdose. Then Mrs. Eberman, a neighbor who lives on the same street, also dies and it is discovered that both women had brain aneurisms and the doctors cannot explain why such a thing happened. The only thing the two women had in common was that they lived on the same street. When Cora, Mrs. Eberman’s sons, and their neighbor Rain Steckerman also gets ill, people start to worry. Something is very wrong on this street in Trinity Falls, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, far away in a small village in Pakistan, Shahzad, a sixteen year old hacker who is working for U.S. intelligence as a virtual spy, is alarmed to discover that there is increased chatter between members of a terrorist group about a substance called Red Vinegar that will “lead to many deaths in colony one.” He does his best to find out what Red Vinegar is, where colony one is located, and who the terrorists are.

Shahzad suffers from chronic asthma so his handlers decide to bring him to New York City where he can get decent health care. They set him up working in an Internet Café so that he can continue to help them, though in a limited capacity. Shahzad is frustrated because in America he is forced to go to school and he is not allowed to hack the way he used to do when he lived in Pakistan. He feels that Americans coddle their children, and the adults he has to deal with refuse to accept him as “a man,” which means that they won’t let him do what he is so good at doing, being an internet spy who helps the agents to catch the bad guys. As Cora and the other teens get sicker and sicker in the hospital, Shahzad desperately wants to find the people who harmed them.

In this thrilling novel, Carol Plum-Ucci gives listeners alternating narratives so that we hear the voices of several of the teenage characters. We hear Shahzad worry about the fates of the people who have been infected with Red Vinegar. We hear Cora trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, who was really her mother in name only. We hear the voice of a young paramedic, Scott Eberman, whose mother dies without any warning of a brain aneurism. Scott is terrified that his brother Owen and his neighbors Cora and Rain might be next, and he does all he can to figure out how they might have been poisoned.

Weaving together the threads of the different narratives with great skill, Carol Plum-Ucci takes listeners into an often terrifying world where bioterrorists create super diseases that they inflict on innocent people, and where teens find themselves in incredibly frightening and often dangerous situations.