HI, I read this book years ago when it first came out. It is an actual account of real events and is depicted that way. However, as a Mom with 6 kids from 23 thru 12, I wouldn't allow my 2 youngest to read this yet. While I think it would probably be fine for older teens(16+), if your child is at all sensitive, pass on this book. It is nightmare material for younger kids or anyone who is prone to being disturbed by graphic images. I read this at the same time as Laurie Garrett's, The Coming Plague, and had nightmares myself. The history and science are both accurate and fascinating, but extremely disturbing. Hope this helps.
I realize I am late in answering this, but I am appalled a teacher would actually choose this book for academic study. The book is poorly written and redundant; why choose drivel when there are so many other more relevant, well-written texts out there? I would be asking the teacher about that rather than the appropriateness for a seventh grader. Putting the issue of the irrelevance and poor choice of study aside, I would not recommend it -- I would rather have children read books that are not mass-marketed ramblings. If your child is sensitive to animals, then it could be disturbing, as Preston reiterates countless times the sacrifice of animals.
Have you heard of SRI's? It's a "reading assessment program which provides immediate, actionable data on students' reading levels and growth over time. SRI helps educators differentiate instruction, make meaningful interventions, forecast growth toward grade-level state tests, and demonstrate accountability. " (by Scholastic).
Well, I just got my daughter's SRI back and this book (The Hot Zone) is on her recommended reading list (which is published by Scholastic).
My daughter is EIGHT and in 2nd grade. And she is so NOT reading this book!
Also a late response, but in case anyone else had a similar question I thought I'd respond anyway. Some 7th graders may be able to handle the subject matter of the book, but for "sensitive" ones I would say that it's not appropriate. So, it's kind of a matter of whether or not you think your kid can handle it. The subject matter is very graphic and it describes real life events were people actually died. Some kids of that age will handle it better than others. You could probably just flat-out ask your seventh grader "people die in this book and it's based on true events, so do you want to read it?".
On the other hand, I don't know why any teacher would recommend this book for study. It's not exceptionally well written, and it's not very scientifically accurate either. It's very sensationalized and much of the information presented is out of date. There are better books on the subject out there, so why this one?
I'm late to this party, but a word of warning in case anyone had the same question: I was a precocious, inquisitive, and not particularly squeamish 8- or 9-year old when I picked up this book. I was staying with my grandmother at the time, and after reading a chapter or so, I was violently sick to my stomach for the rest of the visit. For the next 6 or 7 YEARS, I couldn't stay the night at someone else's house without nausea brought on by nerves, and it started with that trip. I really wish I'd waited until I was older. I'm 24 now, and there are sentences I remember from 15 years ago that still send a chill down my spine. If I'd read it for the first time in my mid-teens, maybe I would have been less upset.