Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Eleventh Plague Book Review

Author: Jeff Hirsch. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545290142.
Annotation:  Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his father are two of the few remaining survivors of P-11: a devastating plague that wiped out most of North America’s population. After Stephen’s father is gravely injured, Stephen must ensure that both of them stay alive in the unforgiving wilderness that is now America.  
Personal thoughts:  I wanted to like this novel more than I ended up enjoying it. I thought the teenage perspective on a post-apocalyptic future was interesting, but the pacing issues in the plot really hampered the story at times for me. I wish the author would have expanded more on what caused the plague and describing the post-apocalyptic environment. I think the author did a good idea of inspiring the reader to contemplate the “what-if’s” of Stephen’s future: what if the America of today experienced P-11. Although it is unclear if this novel is part of a series, I look forward to seeing more of what this author has to offer.
Plot summary: In the not too distant future, fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his father are scavengers living in the desolate wasteland that is now the United States. After a plague known as P-11 wipes out most of the population of North America, the survivors now live on the brink of starvation, constantly trying to evade capture by the Slavers: mercenaries who seek to sell their captives to the highest bidder. After the elder is gravely injured, Stephen and his father find themselves being taken to Settler’s Landing: a small town that managed to survive the plague and is now home to other survivors as well. After his father slips into a coma, Stephen lives with a local family to help care for him. Stephen is reluctant to partake in the seemingly normal life of Settler’s Landing, but eventually gets used to attending school and playing games, even though he is far from welcome by Will, the son of the town’s leader. When he meets Jenny, a fellow outcast, Stephen feels like spending his life in Settler’s Landing might be a possibility. But when Stephen discovers that a practical joke has lead the town to the brink of war with a neighboring village, will he be forced to leave his father in Settler’s Landing and return to his life in the harsh wilderness?
Review:  Despite its slow-pacing, The Eleventh Plague offers an interesting perspective on a very real possibility for the future of the United States. Stephen struggles with normal teenage issues while tackling the realities of his situation: coping with the loss of his mother, his grandfather’s recent death, and his father’s injury. By including Stephen’s grappling with things like crushes, bullies, and feeling like he doesn’t belong, Hirsch creates a believable character living in a very harsh future. The novel focuses almost exclusively on Stephen’s thoughts and feelings, leaving the supporting characters slightly underdeveloped. Jenny, Stephen’s love interest, has a small back-story to explain why she is also an outcast in Settler’s Landing, but story could have been improved by working to expand upon the people Stephen encounters. Overall, however, The Eleventh Plague is an enjoyable read for fans of dystopian novels, especially into a post-apocalyptic setting.  
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.  
Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, survival, fitting in, friendship.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from best-selling author Suzanne Collins.  
Series Information: Unclear, but ending of novel points to possibility of sequels.
Discussion questions:
- Do you think the events of the novel could actually take place? Why or why not?
- Do you think Stephen’s father should have attacked the Slavers?
- If you were Stephen, would you have chosen to stay or leave Settler’s Landing? Why?
- Why do you think Will couldn’t forgive Stephen?

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