“The Passage” by Justin Cronin (Ballantine Books, 2010)

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Justin Cronin began work on The Passage when he realized two things: 1) he needed to make more money to support his family, and 2) his then 9-year-old daughter informed him that the two books he’d published so far – The Summer Guest and Mary and O’Neil – were boring.  So he challenged her to come up with an interesting story, and for three months in the afternoon, for an hour each day, while Cronin ran and his daughter learned to ride her bike, they came up with cool and interesting story ideas.  The result, for the most part, was the almost 800-page epic The Passage.

In the style of Stephen King’s The Stand, The Passage is the story of humanity’s attempt to triumph over nature and mortality, and failing miserably.  On an expedition into the deep jungles of Brazil, a group of scientists and mercenaries is attacked by some very unusual bats, killing some, infecting others with a hemorrhagic fever, but most importantly giving survivors a newly discovered virus that proves to be a useful “cure” for humanity.  Under Project Noah, death row inmates from around the country are rescued and brought to a secret government lab where they are injected with this virus and begin the planned transformation into super-soldiers for the US military, but these test subjects soon transform into something not human, with a strength and a hunger that cannot be controlled.  Soon the virus breaks out of the labs and begins to run rampant through the country, turning the population into these powerful, hungry, superhuman vampires.

Our main character and hero to be is a young girl named Amy whose mother, a prostitute trying her best to support her daughter, leaves the girl at a nunnery, where Sister Lacy Antoinette Kudoto looks after her the best she can.  She takes her to the zoo, but Amy begins to act strange, inciting the animals in the cages to rage and fear.  It soon becomes clear that there is something very special about Amy, but then she is captured and kidnapped, taken to the lab and injected with the virus; only it doesn’t affect her quite like it does the other test subjects.

As the country begins to fall apart, more and more people come in contact with the virus, as cities fall and states follow next.  Brad Wolgast is the man who works for Project Noah and first kidnapped Amy, capturing her once more, escaping from the lab and hiding out in the forests of the Oregon, as the country continues to fall to the vampires.  It is here that Cronin reveals an important tenant of the book: the importance of children, and the relationship between a parent and child.  Wolgast is still dealing with the loss of his own child, and seeks companionship with Amy.

And then the book moves ninety-two years into the future, where the United States of America no longer exists.  All that remain are pockets of humanity, eking out a sheltered life, fighting to survive from these vampires.  A particular group, known as the Lost Colony, lives in a well defended fortress in Southern California.  They refer to the vampires as virals.  At the heart of this regimented and protected colony is the Sanctuary, where the children are kept, looked after, fed and educated until the age of 9, when they are reintroduced to the horrible reality of this world.

This is a story of survival, an exploration of the human consciousness and the extent of its abilities in extreme situations.  Cronin has done thorough research, wanting to get all the details right with a study in weaponry, the science of viruses, and actually visiting each and every place mentioned in the book, as well as driving and plotting out the distances covered for accuracy.  His characters are great in number, but are all strong and individual, believable people.  And then there is little Amy, who is the key and crux to the whole story, as well as to the second and third books in the trilogy.

As to whether Justin Cronin has satisfied the two reasons for writing The Passage, after entering into a bidding war among publishers, he received a considerably large advance, and the book has gone on to be a national bestseller, with a movie in development by Ridley Scott’s company.  And because his daughter has played such an important part in developing the story, she no doubt considers this an “interesting book,” though it will be some years before she will be allowed to read it.

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Originally written on July 29 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

If you liked The Passage, you might like:

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One thought on ““The Passage” by Justin Cronin (Ballantine Books, 2010)

  1. Pingback: BookBanter’s Top Fifteen Reads of the Year « The BookBanter Blog

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