A Death Struck Year (review)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Title: A Death Struck Year
Author: Makiia Lucier
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“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.”
Though the recent ebola outbreak devouring the news made reading "A Death Struck Year" a little unsettling, I found that I couldn't put the book down. It's been a long time that I've read a book that did that to me. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres but lately there haven't been too many of them - especially in YA. Even Ann Rinaldi, who used to be the "queen" of YA historical fiction hasn't published a novel since 2010's "The Last Full Measure". So I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon "A Death Struck Year" by Makiia Lucier.

What made the book so great is that the main character, Cleo is relatable and complex. No Silly Heroine Syndrome for her! When her Oregon town is set upon by the 1918 Spanish Influenza she goes against what's expected of her as a upper class girl to volunteer with the Red Cross and care for the sick. At the beginning of the novel she thinks she's simply ordinary but by the end the readers get to see that she's anything but. I liked how Lucier shows us that Cleo is remarkably brave and selfless without having to tell us. Especially since I don't think that even Cleo ever came to believe this of herself by the end.

I also loved her romantic interest. It'll be easy to see the developing connection between Cleo and the young man in her life and I'll admit that it borders on insta-love. However, the life and death-ness of it all and the charm of her suitor washes this critique away in some resemblance of believability.
Historical fiction is “always ranked the least popular genre”with teens (Gorman and Suellentrop, 2009, p. 124) which is a shame because YA could use more awesome historical fiction books such as "A Death Struck Year". I certainly saw a lot of the author trying to make it relatable to modern readers. Especially in the beginning, Lucier takes great pains to show that Cleo and her friends are just like teens today in school. They talk in class and sneak out to see boyfriends. It may be 1918 but the author tries to make it seem as if the same could happen in the present day.

It's a quick read and worth the time. Great story about the end of World War I and a terrifying pandemic that changed the world.

Gorman, M., & Suellentrop, T. (2009). Connecting young adults and libraries: A how-to-do-it manual (Revised/Expanded ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman.

"Not everyone leaves school knowing their life's purpose, Cleo. And those who do often change their minds ten times over.'He waved a hand toward the window. 'Sometimes you need to go out in the world and live a little first."(pg 13).
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Tracy is a history/film fan who loves to read YA, historical and contemporary fiction. She’s also a sucker for a sad tale. Harry Potter (“Harry Potter”), Peeta Mellark (“Hunger Games”), Nathaniel Blake (“Little Men”) and Daniel Landon (“Catcher, Caught”) are her literary boyfriends. She’s also the resident Ravenclaw and librarian.

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