Saturday, October 1, 2011

Being more than what the world would make us

I used to think of them as "end of the world books," but the generally accepted term is "dystopian." I'm not sure why but it seems to be an especially popular genre lately in YA fiction. I looked for some of the reasons others have given - it helps us confront our fears of an unstable world or it's a cautionary voice about destructive trends in society - but the reason I like best is that it's an interesting "what if?" What if the world we know ended and everything fell into chaos? What would you do? How would you survive? How would you keep your family together or protect those you love? Best of all, when you read it in a book you're still safe. You can close the book on that world of chaos and disorder and maybe your own challenges don't seem so bad after all. At any rate, I've found a few dystopian books I really liked, like Gone or The Hunger Games, but I took a chance on a new one from Amazon Vine: The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch.

Following a devastating war with China where germ warfare was used, the United States was left in shambles. The few who survived lead nomadic lives of salvaging what they can find while trying to avoid bands of armed thugs looking for slaves. Fifteen year old Stephen Quinn, who was born after the "Collapse," hasn't known any other life. When his overbearing but resourceful grandfather passes away, it's down to him and his father. But an accident leaves his father seriously injured and by chance they find a hidden community looking strangely like the world before the war. Children go to school and play baseball in the afternoon, and Thanksgiving celebrations are held in the park by the whole community. But it's not an easy adjustment for Stephen, and his actions expose just how fragile the world is.

While I never really cared much for movies like "Mad Max" or "Waterworld," this was a surprisingly compelling read for me. Maybe it's the YA aspect I prefer, where the main characters are young and the dangers not so overwhelming. Stephen must face questions like "Are you going to be a boy or a man? Human or savage." And while there's plenty of tension and danger here it's not overdone to the point where you feel wrung out by the end of the book. The characters are likeable and sympathetic, and the contrasting relationships Stephen has with his father and dead grandfather are interesting. And the book draws you in surprisingly well - I frequently found myself reading late into the night or itching to pick it up (even though it's not a long book it took me a few days). Kate enjoyed it, too, but I definitely think it's for teens and more mature kids because of the dangerous circumstances portrayed, but otherwise it's a generally "clean" book. I highly recommend it to those who like a little "end of the world" escapism once in a while.


  1. I hope you like it. I'll watch for your review.