Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: A Death-struck Year, by Makkia Lucier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

A Death-Struck Year is an excellent historical novel for teens from debut author Makiia Lucier about the 1918 flu epidemic, which continues to fascinate and frighten into the 21st century.  As the novel opens, we meet Cleo, a 17-year old orphan who's being raised by her older brother and his wife.  She's a student at a ritzy girls' boarding school in Portland when the flu epidemic begins in the United States, but despite the dire news reports about the epidemic striking East Coast cities, she feels safe enough 3000 miles away in Portland.

But when a train filled with soldiers coming home from "The Great War" brings the epidemic to the West Coast, the influenza quickly spreads and Cleo's school is shut down, with girls that have no family at home quarantined at the school.  Telling no one that her brother and his wife are out of town, Cleo escapes to her own home, where she lives alone--just for a few days, she thinks, until their housekeeper returns from a trip out of town.  But when the epidemic strikes in force, Cleo decides to volunteer with the Red Cross, putting herself in harms' way but feeling a strong pull to help out in some way.  This being a YA novel, she meets a handsome young medical student with whom she falls in love.  The Red Cross volunteers are not immune to the flu epidemic, despite wearing masks (which did little if nothing to protect them).  What will happen to Cleo and her new brave friends?

This is a well-researched and compelling historical novel that will appeal to teens 13 and up.  It paints a realistic view of the tragedy of the 1918 flu, which struck particularly hard at healthy young people, as well as children and the elderly.  The author does not try to spare the reader's feelings, and be prepared with some tissues to deal with the many tragedies described.  Highly recommended, particularly for those teen readers looking beyond the plethora of paranormal and dystopian novels that have been flooding the YA market in the last few years.

A historical note provides further background about the flu epidemic, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

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