Thursday, November 12, 2020

New YA Virus Novel Original and Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since her mother sought refuge in the remote religious community of Red Creek, 16-year-old Agnes and her siblings have lived within its protective bounds.  Agnes is careful to follow all the rules—she keeps her hair bound, her face unpainted, her eyes on the Lord, and her actions in line with the prophet's teachings.  She doesn't question the enigmatic leader, even as his preaching becomes increasingly frenetic.  Her one rebellion is going against the prophet's law prohibiting medical intervention.  Ezekiel, Agnes' 7-year-old brother, is a Type 1 diabetic.  Faith hasn't healed him—he needs frequent doses of insulin or he'll die.  Agnes won't let that happen.  She secretly barters for his medicine with a woman from the outside, even though it means risking punishment and excommunication.    

When Agnes' contact brings disturbing news from the outside about a viral pandemic that's sweeping the nation, Agnes is shocked.  The prophet is overjoyed that The End is near; his people will wait the apocalypse out in an underground bunker as planned.  Agnes refuses.  Desperate to save Ezekiel, she leaves behind everything she's ever known and flees with her brother in tow.  As they seek safety anywhere they can find it, Agnes realizes that she has a strange, otherworldly connection to the deadly virus.  Is it possible that she, an ordinary young woman with little knowledge of the world, has the power to stop it?

While Agnes at the End of the World, a debut novel by Kelly McWilliams, may sound like just another YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic story, it has a few elements that make it stand out.  Most cult stories are brutal in their depictions of religious faith, showing it as something that can only be espoused by the blind and the brainwashed.  As Agnes' eyes are opened and she begins to question what she's been taught, she grows into a faith that is meaningful in a more personal way.  She comes to understand what she, herself, really believes and knows.  To me, her journey feels authentic and I love that a YA book depicts that kind of faith as something that is not just acceptable but also healthy and sustaining.  Despite its ruminations on religious devotion, never fear—Agnes at the End of the World is not a Christian novel or even a preachy one.  Its religious themes are expertly woven into its larger plot.  As a Type 1 diabetic myself, I also appreciate the realistic representation of my disease in this story.  It's a condition that isn't addressed a lot in novels and definitely should be.  Beyond these unique features, Agnes at the End of the World also offers a cast of likable characters, a fast-paced plot, and a story well told in assured prose.  For all these reasons, I very much enjoyed this novel, which kept me burning through the pages eager to find out what was going to happen next.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Line Between and A Single Light, a duology by Tosca Lee, and The Outside and The Hallowed Ones, a duology by Laura Bickle)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

5 comments:

  1. This one wasn't really for me, but I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'm also happy to hear the type 1 diabetes rep was accurate.

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  2. This is another one I really want to read! :)

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  3. To see oneself in a book is always refreshing and reassuring. It's so important for librarians, parents, and educators to remember that when choosing books (as you and I have talked about before).

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  4. I've been avoiding pandemic/apocalyptic books since covid hit, but this is such an interesting premise that I might break my rule. It's like a hardcore version of one of my fav books as a kid, Running Out of Time.

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  5. Oh, now I like the sound of this one. I'm not big on dystopian novels as they are usually too heavy handed. But this one sounds like it might work.

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