Code Orange Summary

Caroline B. Cooney

Code Orange

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Code Orange Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney.

The protagonist of the young adult novel Code Orange is Mitty Blake, a thoroughly average American high school student. He lives in Manhattan and attends St. Raphael’s Prep School, a prestigious private school, but doesn’t consider himself to be a star student. He spends as little time as possible on school assignments and daydreams about becoming a music critic. It is 2004, and despite living through the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mitty feels safe in New York and at his weekend home in suburban Connecticut.

Mitty’s slacker ways have finally caught up with him. He must do a stellar job on his Biology term paper in order to secure a good grade in the class. The topic of his report is smallpox, and he thinks luck is on his side when he finds several books on the topic in his mother’s library. In one of the books, written when smallpox was still a deadly epidemic in America, he discovers an unsealed envelope. Out of the envelope fall two dried scabs from a 102-year-old smallpox epidemic. Mitty is excited, thinking they’ll be perfect artifacts for his report. He is unaware that by touching the scabs and inhaling particles, he has been exposed to smallpox.

Mitty returns to school the next day. His best friend, Derek, tells Mitty about his report on anthrax and all the associated deaths. As Mitty researches further, he is horrified by the graphic photos of smallpox victims. He goes with Olivia, a classmate on whom he has a crush, to a medical library. He learns how quickly and easily the disease spreads and realizes that he has been potentially exposed to a very deadly disease. Mitty begins to have psychosomatic symptoms, in which he is so worried about smallpox that he experiences the associated symptoms. He posts on various specialty internet message boards, asking disease experts whether he could have truly contracted smallpox from the scabs he found. He receives hundreds of emails back. Some people want to purchase the scabs from him, either for research or for historical memorabilia. Some warn Mitty to inform the Center for Disease Control. The scabs could potentially infect others, as people no longer receive vaccines against the disease. One has reported Mitty to the FBI as a potential terrorist threat.

Mitty feels sicker and sicker, and becomes convinced that he has smallpox. He brainstorms the best place to die, where he would be least likely to infect others. In his research, he learned about an old hospital for smallpox victims on Roosevelt Island, a small stretch of land between the East River and Queens surrounded by water. He writes his parents a letter explaining why he has chosen to run away and die alone. While he is walking, he runs into Olivia, who asks him what he’s doing on Valentine’s Day. This is all Mitty’s ever wanted, but he doesn’t want to get Olivia sick, and so leaves her without a word, something that hurts her terribly. The next day, Derek is pulled out of class by the FBI. Neither Mitty nor Olivia have shown up to school, and the FBI thinks the smallpox incident is responsible for their disappearance. Olivia is at home, safe, and rushes to school when she hears the news. After reading the note Mitty left for his parents, the FBI assumes Mitty has committed suicide. Olivia and Derek refuse to believe this. They figure out that the FBI doesn’t care whether Mitty is dead or alive—they only care about whether Mitty’s smallpox scabs have fallen into the hands of bioterrorists, who could use the disease to wipe out Manhattan.

Mitty wakes up groggy and with a pounding headache, lying in a cold warehouse. After leaving the note for his parents, Mitty had a change of heart and headed back home. On his way, he was stopped by a strange woman, who claimed she was with the CDC before knocking Mitty out. Two guards enter the warehouse and seem pleased that Mitty is still sick. They cut him lose and allow him to clean himself. He attacks them, and they run away, wary of contracting smallpox themselves. Mitty is unable to find an escape route, and so lies down and waits to die. Meanwhile, Olivia and Derek search for Mitty. He is still trapped in the basement, but begins collecting things to use as weapons. He draws fake smallpox marks on his body with charcoal, and the guards, seeing this new development, enter to investigate. Mitty tells the guards they’ve been exposed and they decide to stay in the cellar, ready to die for their cause. Mitty knocks the guards out and blocks the gas furnace warming the cellar, creating carbon monoxide which will kill him and the guards, preventing the spread of smallpox.

Olivia and Derek end another day of fruitless search. Olivia thinks Mitty might have jumped in the river, but Derek doesn’t. They both think Mitty was a hero, but disagree on what that means. Olivia believes that the public need to know about the sacrifice Mitty made, but Derek disagrees. Mitty knows what he did to protect New York, and that’s enough. Mitty wakes up on a kitchen floor. The woman who kidnapped him is there with a man. They promise Mitty that he’ll kill his own countrymen, and they’ll dance in the streets to celebrate. They descend the cellar stairs to get the guards, and Mitty kicks the door closed, locking them in there. The carbon monoxide kills all the terrorists, and Mitty is rescued by the police after calling 911. Mitty is treated at the hospital for broken bones and carbon monoxide poisoning. He does not have smallpox, and the terrorists will not destroy his city.