Title: A Death-Struck Year
Author: Makiia Lucier
Pub. Date: March 4, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (thank you, HMH Books for Young Readers!!)
Summary: For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country–that’s how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode–and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can’t ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
You know those books that feel as though they were written for you? That the author had you in mind while crafting the story? Say hello to A Death-Struck Year. I’m morbidly fascinated with plagues and deadly viruses. Nothing makes me giddier than reading about a world-threatening illness and few can touch the scope of the Spanish Influenza.
A Death-Struck Year covers two terrifying months in Portland. Cleo Berry is a seventeen-year-old preparing for her final year of high school. While marriage and raising families were still on girls’ minds, it was becoming more commonplace for young women to attend college and Cleo is fretting over where her future lies.
The newspapers report the deadly Spanish Influenza that has touched down on the East Coast, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans barely clinging to life if not already dead. When the virus reaches the West Coast, cities are all but shut down – including Portland. Suddenly Cleo has nowhere to go (her parents were both killed in a horrific accident when she was a child, her older brother and his wife are overseas celebrating their anniversary, and the housekeeper has gone home to visit her family) and rather than stay inside her quarantined school, Cleo makes a hasty decision to answer a Red Cross ad and volunteer. The hospital along with the makeshift ones are overcrowded and bodies are being discovered days later inside homes. Suddenly Cleo is in way over her head as all around her, people are dying and she quickly learns that death is not selective; no one is safe, no amount of money can guarantee immunity.
A Death-Struck Year was a one-sitting read and wonderfully researched. Makiia Lucier is not afraid to get down and dirty. This novel is not for the squeamish! Symptoms and facts haven’t been sugar-coated; Lucier lays it all out in stark detail. We’ve all read novels where the main character is too rich and too spoiled for her own good and can’t do a single thing on her own. It isn’t like that at all with this book. Yes, in the beginning Cleo can come off as fairly petty, but once the Spanish Influenza hits Portland, she rises to action. She drags bodies out of homes and doesn’t think twice about running to aid a person who’s bleeding profusely. Before this novel she would have been the type to raise a fuss over a bit of dirt on her dress. Seeing such a large amount of death forced her to grow and mature and I like her all the more for it.
The secondary characters were lovely as well, from the fellow Red Cross volunteers and nurses to Cleo’s classmates and even some of the victims. It’s a shame her brother and his wife took the absentee parents route. The few interactions Cleo had with both of them were wonderful and I would have loved to have seen more. Even Edmund, a wounded Lieutenant and medical student, was great although I could have done without the romance. I’ll admit that it was nice to not have a case of instalove, but I would think that the Spanish Influenza with a death toll of 50 million people worldwide would make the romance take a backseat. It didn’t seem realistic that Cleo would have been interested in flirting and fawning over a boy at that time.
At the end of the novel Lucier has a few pages of historical notes which I absolutely loved. She also included a list of books for further reading that looks extremely interesting. While I’ve read loads of historical Young Adult novels set during the early 1900s, I had never come across one dealing with the Spanish Influenza and I have to hand it to Makiia Lucier: she did an incredible job with both her research and this novel. Whether you’re a history fan or are looking to get out of your comfort zone, check out A Death-Struck Year. This is Lucier’s debut and I cannot wait to see what she does next!