Each week for Paperback Throwback, I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in between— you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.
Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.
This week’s throwback is medically necessary.
When a deadly virus is unleashed in Grant, Massachusetts, it’s up to a ragtag group of teenage hospital volunteers and one paramedic to navigate the bureaucracy of the Med Center and find a cure.
Diane Hoh is perhaps one of the biggest names in young adult horror. While she started her career contributing titles to Scholastic’s Wildfire and Cheerleaders series, she gained prominence under their Point Horror line with Funhouse in 1990. However, her largest success was her own Nightmare Hall series, a spinoff of Point horror, which lasted for 29 titles about a haunted dorm between 1993 and 1995.
But in 1996, she tucked the traditional horror away in exchange for the hustle and bustle of an elite hospital. There were no ghosts or ghouls running around Med Center. Rather, she kept the relationship-focused teen characters she was known for and dealt them mysterious illnesses and natural disasters.
The idea of a group of teens having the run of a hospital isn’t the most believable, but then it’s often easy to forget that these aren’t twenty-something interns stressing about saving lives and shaping their careers. They’re given massive responsibilities for volunteers. Also, Susannah and her comrades are almost always at the Med Center, which is remarkable since Will, as a paramedic, is the only one getting paid. The rest are doing the grind without compensation.
Hoh plays up why they hang around so much— really, they’re just good kids wanting to volunteer! And also, there’s apparently nothing else better to do in Grant, Massachusetts. All anyone talks about is the Med Center. Even when the gang heads to a local club, appropriately named The Music Room, the lead singer of a travelling band gushes to Susannah all about the world-famous Med Center. One subplot even involves a fashion show that, for unexplained reasons, is being held at … the Med Center. So, really, it’s the place to be for treatment and recreation.
As more of their friends and acquaintances begin dropping in with a flu-like sickness, it’s convenient that everyone’s already at the hospital. But that doesn’t stop greedy bureaucracy kicking in, with hospital officials withholding information and refusing to contact the CDC about their emergency. Thankfully, this book is pre-HIPPA and the crew has no problem leaking information left and right.
If this makes it sound over-the-top, it should. Everything is heightened. There’s life and death situations, parental confrontations, and a dating triangle with no serious conclusion, all resulting in a high-energy, fun read.
Series: Med Center #1
Author: Diane Hoh
Publication Date: July 1996
Classification: Young Adult