cover image Code Orange

Code Orange

Caroline B. Cooney, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73259-8

Cooney's (The Face on the Milk Carton ) rat-a-tat delivery and hairpin turns keep the pages turning in this attention-grabbing post-9/11 thriller. Hunting for a topic for his biology research paper on infectious disease, Manhattan private schooler Mitty Blake picks up an antique textbook, discovers an envelope within its pages, and takes out its contents: scabs from a long-ago smallpox epidemic. (Wild as this plot element may seem, it is based on a recent, real-life event, as a closing author's note explains.) Though initially pleased to have averted academic disaster, an ominous fear grows in the boy: Did he ingest a portion of the scabs and could he now be incubating the smallpox virus? Mitty's realization that he may be a walking viral time bomb is neatly underscored by Cooney's affectionate rendering of his uniquely New York lifestyle ("Everything was always open. Just to test this, Mitty and his dad would sometimes get a hot dog, sushi or a toothbrush at three a.m."). The protagonist's rash e-mail queries make him the target of a terrorist group that aims to harvest the smallpox virus from his body. As he improvises a daring yet ultimately plausible scheme to save his beloved city, Mitty makes a convincing transformation from sweet-natured slacker to bona fide hero. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)