Among those shoppers are four teenagers. Marco Carvajal is a working-class Costa Rican kid who works as a busboy at the Grill-n-Shake. Alexandra "Lexi" Ross is the nerdy, computer-whiz daughter of Senator Dorothy "Dotty" Ross, attending the mall with her parents for Chinese food and a movie. Ryan Murphy (no, not that one) is a Lovable Jock from West Nyack High School, running an errand for his older brother Thad (the star quarterback) and hanging out with his decidedly less lovable teammates Mike and Drew. Shaila "Shay" Dixit is an artsy Indian theater/poetry geek who is out shopping with her grandmother (or "Nani") and her little sister Preeti. For the four of them and everyone else, the fun of having an entire shopping mall to themselves soon gives way to food shortages, fights, agitation, gang violence, rioting, and disgusting bathrooms. And the four of them are among the only ones who know the truth about what is happening...
Tropes present in this work:
- Closed Circle: The authorities did a great job of making sure that nothing is getting out of that mall. The main doors? Blocked off with sandbags. The parking garage? Blocked off with walls thick enough to stop a Chevy Suburban in its tracks. The roof? Cops and helicopters. And that's not even counting the walls in the parking lot meant to keep the crowds outside from getting in. Eventually, Ryan and his group simply say "screw it" and try to find a jackhammer to bust a hole through the wall.
- D-Cup Distress: Lexi resents the lustful attention that she gets from her male classmates due to her developed figure.
- Death by Sex: Implied. Lexi refuses to take part in the other teens' truth-or-dare game once it reaches the point where they're making out and having sex, given what she knows about the virus.
- Disgusting Public Toilet: With the nighttime janitorial team unable to get into the mall, the public bathrooms turn into cesspits in the course of two days, forcing the authorities to recruit shoppers to work as janitors. The manager at the Grill-n-Shake turns his restaurant's bathroom into a pay toilet so that it doesn't suffer the same fate.
- Not to mention that Lexi realizes early on that the bathrooms make for great vectors for infection.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Mike's reaction to Marco scratching his car with his bike is to try to run Marco over in the parking garage.
- Ill Girl: Preeti in the second half of the book. She gets better, though.
- Informed Attribute: The fact that Lexi and her family are black is only mentioned once in the entire book.
- Jerk Jock: Mike and Drew, who are introduced trying to run over Marco simply for scratching Drew's BMW with his bike. They get better, though. The rival players from Tarrytown are a more clear-cut example, giving Ryan a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown over the last game they played.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Shay has shades of this with Ryan, introducing him to the work of Rabindranath Tagore and Jane Austen.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: If it weren't for Dotty not knowing the proper protocol for a bio-terror attack, the mall would've been evacuated like it should have been rather than quarantined. Subverted in the end, though; given the lethality of the virus, Dotty most definitely made the right call to seal off the building.
- No Ending: The book makes no indication that it is the first in a series until the words "End of Book One" come up on the final page.
- No FEMA Response: Subverted initially, with the authorities trying to supply the quarantined shoppers with food, medicine and other supplies. Once they realize how deadly the virus is, however, they play it straight and seal off the building, letting the virus burn itself out.
- The Plague: Specifically, a particularly lethal strain of influenza. A-thousand-dead-in-one-week lethal.
- Shrinking Violet: Lexi. What few friends she had she was separated from after she was sent (against her will) to an elite private school, where she found herself unable to enter the social circles of classmates who had known each other since childhood.
- Voice with an Internet Connection: Darren becomes this for Lexi.
- Wham Chapter: Dotty's discovery of the thousand-plus dead bodies in the ice rink at the end of book one.