Friday, February 3, 2012
Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch (fiction) - tough road in the future
Maybe they can pull some scrap iron from that bombed-out building,
Maybe the soldiers won't capture them,
Maybe the slavers will.
Germ warfare on a global scale - China started it, but everyone was threatened by the virulent strain of flu. Only a third of the population survived that Eleventh Plague, and now living day to day is the hardest thing the survivors will ever face.
Granddad was tough on Stephen and Dad, but how else were they to survive after Mom died and the Quinns took to the salvagers' ways? Anything not practical was useless in Granddad's eyes, especially when they had to carry everything, so Stephen never let him see The Lord of the Rings book deep in his pack, nor the only photograph of his mother.
Is Settler's Rest too good to be real? The school must have over a hundred books! Stephen can even play baseball, like Dad did in the pros before the war.
Yet many townspeople mock and despise Jenny, who was adopted from China years before the war began. And some still suspect Stephen and Dad of being spies, even after the teen works and works alongside the other kids.
Jeff Hirsch's debut novel sends us along America's deserted backroads and shattered shopping centers on this Future Friday, always watching for soldiers and slavers, always wondering if the P11 plague is truly gone.
Book info: The Eleventh Plague / Jeff Hirsch. Scholastic Press, 2011. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]
My Recommendation: Always moving, Stephen learns survival skills from his dad and granddad as they travel through ruined America. Searching for salvage on the way to the traders’ gathering, they stay clear of the old paved roads where soldiers and slavers travel. What was it like before the Chinese bombed the USA and two-thirds of the world’s people died of the Eleventh Plague, that deadly flu? What would it be like if Mom were still alive?
A chase, an accident, a long drop – now grumpy Granddad is buried, Dad is in a coma, and Stephen must keep them safe. When a group of teens finds the pair near the river, he reluctantly accepts their offer of help for Dad. After blindfolding, the group travels a winding trail to a town – a real town, with a school and houses with unbroken glass windows! So many people in one place, mostly refugees who have built a true community in this remote gated subdivision.
Stephen can hardly believe their luck, finding an actual doctor who can treat Dad. Violet even lets them stay in Jenny’s room since her rebellious adopted Chinese daughter moved into an old barn, away from the taunts about her birthplace.
But not everyone in Settler’s Landing thinks it’s a good idea to let strangers in their gates. Some think that Stephen and Dad are spies from Fort Leonard where soldiers are in charge, others worry that they’re an advance party for the region’s ruthless slaver gangs.
For the first time in his fifteen years, Stephen can attend school and play baseball, like Dad told him about. Sure, the town’s kids have chores afterward, but they can go swimming and there’s almost always enough to eat – the adults have worked so hard to keep the town and people safe.
Jenny is always the wild card, questioning their teacher during the few times she attends school, challenging her peers to think for themselves. When one of Jenny’s pranks gets out of hand, the small community jumps to the wrong conclusion. Perhaps Stephen really is a spy, they worry.
Now Settler’s Landing finds itself divided – do they launch an attack against outsiders or stay inside their town walls to defend it? What can the town council do to keep this hard-earned fragment of civilization intact? Will they even be able to survive if the slavers or soldiers march into their hidden valley?
A future that might be true, a future that we pray never happens, the only reality that Stephen knows – this is America after The Eleventh Plague. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.