The fall book catalogs for kids and teens were filled with dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels, thanks in great part to the success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. My husband, 17-year old son, and I all enjoy these kinds of novels when they are done well, and this is the first of several that we plan to read this fall. My husband and I both enjoyed The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch (our son hasn’t read it yet).
The novel opens in a post-apocalyptic America that has been devastated and destroyed by horrific wars, two-thirds of its population killed by a deadly flu-type virus nicknamed the Eleventh Plague. Fifteen-year old Stephen Quinn wanders up and down the country with the seasons, accompanied by his father and harsh, military-trained grandfather. They live as salvagers, struggling to find and trade for the necessities they need to survive another day and trying to avoid bands of violent Slavers and what is left of the military.
When Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father is injured, Stephen and his dad eventually find their way to a hidden community called Settler’s Landing. Here, the people live much as they did before The Collapse – in houses, with schools and holiday celebrations and even baseball. Stephen has never experienced this kind of life, and he is torn between returning to what he has always known and accepting this new life that seems too good to be true. Of course, there is a girl involved, too: Jenny, a strong-willed, self-imposed outcast among her own people. When a disaster occurs for which Stephen feels responsible, he must choose whether to run or stay and help his new community.
I was pulled into this novel right from the first chapters and finished it in a few days. The characters are well drawn and real, the new landscape and situations intriguing, with plenty of action and suspense thrown in to move things along. I was rooting for Stephen and for Jenny. The beginning of the novel seems pretty grim, as do all post-apocalyptic stories, but there are elements of hope for a better future introduced along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel by Jeff Hirsch and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
278 pages, Scholastic
NOTE: This book is classified as YA, but I think that older middle-grade readers will like it also if they generally enjoy post-apocalyptic novels. There is, of course, some violence in it and some very mild romance.