Author: Makiia Lucier
Published: March 4th 2014
Publisher: HMH BfYR
Format: Hardcover, 288 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository
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?Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting.
There have been quite a few good books about Spanish influenza in the last few years, but A Death-Struck Year stands out among them as unusually realistic. Put simply, it is a story about unlikely heroes, regular people who chose to help others when help was most needed, regardless of the danger. A Death-Struck Year is about a teen girl who joined the Red Cross volunteers during the outburst of Spanish influenza in Portland, despite being far too young to do so. I myself have spent many, many years volunteering for the Red Cross, and although my work was much simpler and far less dangerous, I loved seeing Cleo and her fellow volunteers portrayed in such a wonderful way.
Just like everything else in this book, Cleo struck me as an unusually realistic character. She wasn’t particularly bold and she didn’t make the decision to help rashly. She was scared and uncertain like any other sane person would be, but she swallowed her fears, hid her age, and volunteered to help where help was most needed. It’s people like Cleo who are true heroes of every story, and I appreciated her uncertainty just as much as I appreciated her courage.
The romance is subtle and uncomplicated, strong and reliable, and certainly not at the forefront of anyone’s mind at such a terrible time. Cleo and Edmund both have their hands full caring for the sick, which leaves them very little time to spend together and get to know each other, but his constant concern for her and vice versa is touching. Lucier chose to make her romance as straightforward as possible, leaving the drama completely out of the picture. The focus was always on the devastating effect the Spanish influenza had on Portland in October and November of 1918.
Because of its realism, A Death-Struck Year has tremendous educational value. It’s obvious from this debut that Makiia Lucier is a very promising young writer from whom we can expect many more extraordinary novels. I cannot recommend this book enough.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.