“Oh, no! Severed limb!”
I’m always on the lookout for forgotten series with weird or unique concepts… but this one, in which teenagers learn a valuable lesson about not peer-pressuring their friends’ identical twins to serve as organ banks takes the cake…
The Plot: The Yellowjackets are a group of high school volunteers who train with the local police, fire department and ambulance corps to assist in emergencies in suburban Detroit. Also in 180 pages they have more drama than an entire season of Adam-12 and Emergency! combined.
The reader is introduced to the first class of three volunteers as they participate in a disaster drill for a plane crash as the local TV cameras roll. Lydia Malcolm is the ambitious, exacting niece of a renowned neurosurgeon, who wants to be a doctor herself. Barina Rennie has recently emigrated from Trinidad with her family and dreams of becoming a police officer. In a very 1990’s stab at diversity we are told that she wears her hair in braids and says “mon” after every sentence. Then there is Gordon McKittrick who is always inner-monologuing about what a nice guy he is and how Lydia should recognize that and go out with him. While he is supposed to be sympathetic, Gordon is basically the worst and I hate him.
While at the scene of the drill Lydia, who thinks things like “I love organization!”, is first blackmailed by the local bad boy, Ben Varga, into accepting a date with him (he had been assigned the role of “corpse at scene” and refuses to lay down and play dead until she says yes) and then recognizes that another of the re-enactors is having an actual heart attack and saves him with CPR. This earns a lot of positive publicity for the Yellowjacket program, and Lydia is even hounded by autograph-seekers at the local newsstand.
Barina and Gordon don’t approve of her date with Ben (obvs), but Lydia finds herself attracted to him
Without his pasty death makeup, Ben Varga glowed with health and strength. It was a hot night, and in the warm air he wore a black T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, so his shoulder-length black hair, whipped wild by the ride, fell in a ragged frame around his face as he smiled at her.
That’s right, Ben comes to pick her up to go to the movies on a motorcycle. Also literally no one notices that Ben has a passenger on the back of his bike, his shy and sensitive identical twin, whose name no one can ever remember (it is Max). He hands over his helmet to Lydia and she and Ben are off… until Ben starts showing off his mad motorcross skillz, and Lydia has gets all up in his face about being poor:
“You didn’t give me any warning!”
“What did you want a warning about?”
“About putting me in danger, that’s what. A decent guy doesn’t pick a girl up for a date on a motorcycle.”
“He does on my side of town,” Ben said. “But I guess you think there aren’t any decent guys where I live.”
Ben is then promptly hit by a drunk driver who ran a stop sign, trapping him on his bike underneath her minivan. The author takes pains to show us that drunk driver-lady and her family are pure trash:
“I didn’t have no stop sign! Look at those trees! I didn’t see the stop sign through those trees! Justin, keep away from there!”
There was the sound of a slap, and a child started howling. Not a cry, but a howl of defiance.
Of course Gordon JUST HAPPENS to be on a ride along in the ambulance when the call comes in, so he races to the scene:
Gordon sensed, rather than saw, the curious gaze of drivers as they pulled aside and watched the ambulance streak by- as if they wanted to look into the eyes of the EMTs to see what terrible incident had happened to somebody else.
Umm… I think Gordon might be projecting a bit. Also maybe a sociopath?
Meanwhile at the hospital, Barina is silently judging the mother of a murdered sixteen year old:
Her “baby” was a sixteen year old thug who had gotten himself into his own trouble, and gone out of his way for it. He had come to Royal Oak from Detroit to make good on a threat of revenge between himself and a member of another gang.
When Lydia arrives in the ambulance with Ben, she immediately starts meddling above her pay grade by racially profiling the waiting room:
“Those two guys…”
“What about them?”
“They are Korean and we have no Korean patients right now. The dead and injured boys are black. If these two know the family, why don’t they go in to them?”
Of course they are gang members, at the hospital to finish off the injured rival. They’re KOREAN. Lydia and Barina are briefly held hostage at gun point, until the cops arrive and the gang member abruptly hands over his gun to Barina.
The hospital at least is able to stabilize Ben, and the gang learns that his only family in the world is his twin brother and the elderly Aunt who they live with: their father flew the coop before the family left Guatemala, and their mother died several years ago.
Gordon still has to be a huge dick about everything:
“Everybody has hard things to go through, Lydia.” Gordon protested, desperate that he was hearing something in her voice that he wouldn’t be able to break through. “People don’t have to be poor or immigrants or have bad starts in order to have tough times.”
“What’s your problem?” Barina asked him.
“No problem,” he insisted. “I just don’t believe in making excuses.”
Unfortunately, Ben has a perforated bowel that the doctors missed and develops peritonitis
“Yuck,” Barina said. “Bowels- you mean actually what goes in the toilet is leaking inside, yes?”
Now Ben needs a kidney transplant or he’ll have to have dialysis twice a month for the rest of his life.
Are you ready for some comic relief? Well, you’re in luck, because a hysterical woman runs into the ER with a severed hand in a cooler.
Soon the owner of the hand comes coolly strolling into the ER, with a rubber band on the stump:
“Name’s Rex,” the man said. “Rex ‘Tyrannosaurus’ Birch. Sergeant, United States Marines. So do I get a hook or what? I always wanted a hook.
“Hey, just make sure they don’t sew it on backward. I don’t want to go to scratch my butt and miss.”
While Ben is waiting for a kidney, Gordon also rescues a Doberman from a barbed wire fence (and delivers a lecture to the owner about leaving dogs and children in cars while he goes shopping, because of course…) and Barina gets lowered into a hole to rescue a Burmese python that escaped from the Detroit Zoo.
At least people have finally remembered that Max exists, and as an identical twin, is the perfect kidney donor for Ben. Unfortunately, he has a deathly fear of hospitals and refuses to undergo the procedure. Lydia, Gordon and Barina decide to use the power of peer pressure and gang up on him.
“I know,” Max uttered. “I’m a wimp. It’s making me nauseous just to sit in the waiting room.
“Jesus, man!” Gordon glared. “You’re identical twins! It’s a perfect match!”
Barina nodded. “Most people would be glad to do this!”
Max looked at each of them in turn, then at the floor. The guilt trip was working.
“I knew you were shy, Max” Lydia added with a sudden sting, “but I didn’t know you were a coward. Maybe the hospital makes you sick, but you’re making me sick.”
It turns out that Max was right to be wary, because even though he promised Ben that he wouldn’t do it, he is finally harassed into undergoing the procedure. And then he straight-up dies on the operating table. SERIOUSLY! THEY KILLED THE ONLY SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER!
The teens barely pause consider their role in Max’s death. Lydia, who is also kind of the worst by this point, admits that she’s glad that the brother that she has a crush on is the one who lived.
Ben, now full of health and vitality with his ill-gotten kidney, is pretty pissed (LOOK WHAT I DID THERE!) when he finds out that the Yellowjackets convinced Max right into his grave and goes to see a shady lawyer about suing the hospital and closing down the Yellowjacket program.
However, he has an abrupt change of heart and announces that he settled out of court- for a date with Lydia! The book ends with him signing on as the newest Yellowjacket trainee.
Sign It Was Written In 1996 Department:
I was wondering if this series was designed to cash in on the (in retrospect, inexplicably) popular 90s show Rescue 911, which recreated 911 calls and rescues under the narration of William Shatner. We have confirmation:
“I know because Captain Kirk told me on TV to call 911.”
That’s So Rex! Department:
“Come on, kids! Let’s go mutilate a pizza!”
WE HAD TO DESTROY THE PIZZA IN ORDER TO SAVE IT!!!
Unnecessarily Obvious Summary Of Theme Department:
But the Yellowjacket Program isn’t a surprise to anybody who understands how much teenagers secretly want to participate in the world around them.
The Best Thing About This Book: Convenient glossary of medical terms in the front!