“Pandora Jones: Admission” is the first novel in a dystopian series by well-respected Australian author Barry Jonsberg. It tells the story of Pandora, the lone Melbourne survivor of a devastating virus epidemic that wipes out more than 99 percent of the world’s population in mere days. The teen protagonist, Pandora (Pan), is airlifted from the scene of the devastation and taken to an unknown military-style installation. She remains unconscious throughout the ordeal and when she wakes, weeks later, she is integrated into the mysterious new world of ‘The School’, a place where the few remaining survivors are supposedly occupied with the mission of rebuilding.
I imagine that many students in the lower end of high school will appreciate the themes and the whizzing pace of the story, actively seeking to gobble each morsel of the book with relish, before racing through the rest of the series. For me, even though I appreciated Jonsberg’s brilliant premise, this blinding pace left me wanting a little more meat on the bones of some of the minor characters.
In terms of theme there are some fantastic cross-curricular links to be made between Science (the study of virus mutation) and History. In particular, students studying year 8 History (ACARA) will draw some useful parallels to the bubonic plague. Similarly, rich comparisons could be made between this book and other popular print and visual texts, including Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies”, Stephen King’s “The Stand”, “Outbreak”, “Contagion”, “Planet of the Apes”, the list goes on.
A small word of warning. This book has a highly confronting, albeit superbly written, prologue. It literally seemed like I was being dragged into the story by my hair, only to be spat out a few pages latter in tatters, feeling as though I’d fought a battle against a dragon and lost. While the book did feel a little short, with the ending a little too abrupt for my liking, I am choosing to forgive Jonsberg this time since he promises to develop the ideas he has established so well in the next and subsequent books.
Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden