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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Debut Dystopian Needs More Than Just Action

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The United States of America was once a great country. Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn knows this from the stories he's heard, the ruins he's explored. But that was 20 years ago, before the U.S. lobbed nukes at China, before war devastated the country, before China unleashed P11 - a vicious flu virus nicknamed "The Eleventh Plague" - to finish off anyone the war hadn't. Resources had been running low even before that, causing oil shortages and other problems. Now, the nation's nothing but a vast wasteland, covered with rusting automobiles and crumbling buildings, worthless relics of the past.

To survive, Stephen and his father work as salvagers, combing through wrecked cities in search of anything they can trade for food, clothing and other supplies. As long as they dodge all the bandits and slavers on the loose, it's a successful enough enterprise. But when a run-in with the wrong sort leaves Stephen's father near death, Stephen knows he can't proceed alone. He has to find help. Even if it means doing the one thing he vowed never to do - trust a stranger.

When he's brought to the small village of Settler's Landing, Stephen's amazed by the tidy, civilized society. Isolated and safe, it's like a tiny oasis in the middle of the wide, treacherous Sahara. Stephen can hardly believe the place is real. The longer he stays there, though, the more he realizes that Settler's Landing isn't exactly what it appears to be. When he and his new friend, the mischevious Jenny , play a prank that goes horribly awry, Stephen remembers just how dangerous this changed new world really is.

The Eleventh Plague, a debut novel by Jeff Hirsch, offers a bleak, but relatively tame, look at the end of the world. The book's got enough grit to be suspenseful, while remaining clean enough for a young young adult audience (I debated whether to rate it PG or PG-13, finally settling on the latter just to be on the safe side). While there's not a lot of originality to the book, it kept my attention with lots of action, something that will also appeal to teen boys, I'm sure. Still, I longed for better character development, stronger imagery and more dynamic dialogue. Without all that, The Eleventh Plague remains just okay for me. That book cover, though? Perfection.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language, violence, and intense situations

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Eleventh Plague from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Swell, I have this one on my TBR list and I'm getting awfully sick of books with little to no plot. Sigh!


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