Virals: Book 1

Book review by
Karen Wirsing, Common Sense Media
Virals: Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Exciting story of murder-solving heroine with superpowers.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 12 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Virals combines mystery with action and science, and introduces kids to various genres of literature and history. References to the Great Depression and Vietnam will encourage kids to understand events of the past. Readers will also learn interesting facts about archeology, forensics, anatomy, and animals.  

Positive Messages

A major theme in Virals is: Be true to yourself and others will not only accept you but admire you more for it. And, although it can be difficult, doing what's right pays dividends in the end.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character, Tory Brennan, is a strong, smart, and independent heroine. She rises above the unfortunate hand she is dealt. And, instead of wallowing in self-pity, Tory is an optimistic and positive influence on those around her.


The plot of Virals revolves around two murder mysteries. Teens are chased and shot at by adults who attempt to kill them. These scenes are always set at night, which intensifies the excitement and may frighten younger children. There are fistfights and some blows between a young girl and an adult male.


People are referred to as "bitch," "skank" or "ass."  "Bulls--t" is used twice.


Virals is chock-full of labels. Kids wear everything from Adidas to Vera Wang and drive around in BMWs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References are made to adults smoking cigarettes, but it's not glamorized, and the health risks are duly noted.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Virals revolves around two murder mysteries. The text includes descriptive scenes filled with forensic terminology, providing a realistic element that may be too scary for young readers. Four teenagers attempt to solve a mystery on their own and excavate the area where a body is buried, and this leads to the murder of a major character. Teens are chased and shot at by adults who attempt to kill them, and there are fistfights and scenes of schoolyard bullying, where kids are called names. Virals is the first installment of a multipart series.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycarleesoto March 25, 2014


We thought this book was filled with great science and research scenes. However, the inappropriate language of the main character bothered us in elementary. We... Continue reading
Adult Written byhappymom41 May 21, 2015

Foul Language - Head's Up

My 10 year old son is currently reading "Virals," and really likes it, but he's only a couple of chapters in and has come to me twice with concer... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCrazyGirl77 March 29, 2021
This a great series, and does not contain too many bad things. The other books can be a little more intense, but you could definitely read the first book at 10.
Kid, 12 years old January 10, 2021

swear alert

There is swearing is almost EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Besides that, this book is about a murder and getting infected with a virus that *spoiler alert* gives them super... Continue reading

What's the story?

Tory Brennan is a teenage girl who (due to unfortunate circumstance) is forced to move to a new town with her estranged father. Living on Morris Island in Charleston, NC, isn’t so bad if you can afford a Vera Wang designer dress and a brand new BMW. But for outcasts like Tory and her three best nerdy guy friends, the island offers something rare; it's the location of a world-renown research institute. Although the four teens are the poor kids on campus, they form a bond through their shared passion for science and the outdoors. Tory and the boys can't get enough of exploring all the island's backwoods have to offer. Unfortunately, one innocent adventure quickly becomes an extremely dangerous journey when the crew discovers the bones of a girl missing since 1969. As if a murder mystery isn't enough to take on, Tory also releases a contagious virus after breaking into the Loggerhead Island Research Institute, which alters the DNA of her and her comrades. This alteration leaves the kids with hypersensitive senses and superhuman strength. To solve the mystery and save their own lives, the teens will have to figure out how to activate these powers at crucial moments -- or risk losing everything.

Is it any good?

VIRALS is a thrilling ride with short chapters that continue to pick up speed. The book proves that author Kathy Reichs is more than a great novelist, she's also a real-life forensic anthropologist (and inspiration for the TV series Bones), who reveals all sorts of details involved in solving murder mysteries. Readers are taken through the research process and given precise tips on bone identification. Kids will be intrigued as they are introduced to the world of forensics.

Parents will be pleased that this novel exceeds all expectations of what a reader is looking for in a heroine. Tory Brennen encompasses the charming innocence of a young girl who, instead of being completely boy crazed, is passionate about animals, the environment, and politics. It's a refreshing change to encounter a YA novel that does not end with a love triangle in the first installment. The only relationship that develops here is the touching bond between Tory and her wild wolfpup, Coop.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Familes can talk about the popularity of books and TV shows about solving crimes by examining bones and dead bodies -- like CSI and Bones. Why do people find this work so fascinating?

  • Parents and kids can discuss bullying. What should you do you see another person being bullied, or are a victim of bullying yourself?

  • Parents can also discuss the proper actions to take if you've witnessed a crime.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love a thrill

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