Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Plague Will Bring Them Together

The Eleventh Plague
Just thinking about what could go horribly wrong in the world will make you crazy, so why would someone want to read (so many) books about the apocalypse, you might ask? Well, because they always have an underlying positive message (well, except The Road, of course). The world may have ended, but somewhere out there is a community, a new life, a new start. The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch is a story about a boy who had nothing to lose, until he almost lost everything.

Stephen and his father just buried Stephen's grandfather, but they aren't sad. In fact, they feel relieved to have lost the burden of his grandfather's cynical, dog-eat-dog mentality. Not even 24 hours after his death, they are caught in a situation where they could either walk away and save themselves or help a person in need. They know Grandfather would make them walk away, but he isn't there anymore. Unfortunately, the very first time they take a chance to help someone, it goes horribly awry and Stephen's father is seriously hurt. With a number of broken bones and sunken into a coma, Stephen has no idea what to do, until some people stumble upon them.

At first Stephen thinks they might be the slavers returned for revenge, but after a few wide shots and a crack to the head, Stephen wakes up and finds friendly people- something he didn't think existed anymore in the world after wars, plagues, starvation, and pollution made it only a shell of what it used to be. So when he is taken to their village and they treat his father with precious medicines- a stranger they didn't even know- Stephen feels wildly out of place. He doesn't know how to react to such kind people. In the village is another person who bucks the idea of community- Jenny, the lone Chinese girl a family took in years ago. As the Chinese were responsible for releasing the Eleventh Plague which decimated the population, it is no wonder why Jenny seems to be constantly at war with the idea of a community that expects her to act and react a certain way. When Jenny and Stephen band together to seek innocent revenge on a bully, they release a band of aggression that will show the true and sometimes evil nature of human beings. What they don't realize until it's too late is that their harmless pranks could risk the lives of the only people who have ever cared about them- the people of Settler's Landing.

This was a short read, but it wasn't a disappointing one. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic and dystopia stories, as well as a lot of young adult stories (with plenty of crossover), and I was very impressed with this story. It dealt with many of the common PA themes of survival and community while still appealing to the younger crowd. Stephens character is a boy forced to grow up quickly in order to survive who is both terrified to be alone and terrified to belong to and be responsible to a community. When he sees the kids playing baseball and going to school, he can't help but yearn for a life where things were simpler and life or death wasn't a daily concern. This perspective might be nice for kids who trudge to high school begrudgingly and complain about every single homework assignment.

The story is appropriate for a wide range of students from lower middle school through high school students. In particular, it would be good for low-skilled high school students who need an easier book to read but want mature subjects. The subject matter is deep, but still appropriate for younger students. This book would also be good for any post-apocalyptic fans who also like YA! The world might have ended, but the people who survived have a good story to tell!

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