The Eleventh Plague

Eleventh Plague

Author: Jeff Hirsch

Publication: 2011, Scholastic

Pages: 304

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action:bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: In the aftermath of a brutal war with China and a lethally engineered strain of influenza that killed off most of the population, the people who are left must struggle to survive.  Stephen has grown up as a salvager, travelling with his father and grandfather to salvage scrap good for sale.  But after his hard bitten grandfather dies and his father has an accident that puts him in a coma, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing.  It’s a small community that’s trying to rebuild – to live life the way it used to be before the war.  But the world outside their walls is full of danger.  And when Stephen and one of the local teens plays a prank that goes terribly wrong, the world comes crashing in – threatening to destroy Settler’s Landing forever.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: The story that Hirsch presents feels chillingly real – a war between China and America, an engineered bio weapon – it’s the kind of thing you hope will never happen but could still imagine being real.  Hirsch makes his world all the more immediate by filling it with scraps of the familiar.

Hirsch also made a clear choice not to pull any punches in presenting the dangers of his new world.  There are slavers and gangs aplenty and he doesn’t waste any time in tossing Stephen and his dad into a life threatening situation.  And even when there are no slavers around, much of the world Stephen inhabits feels gritty and frightening – full of collapsing homes, rusted out restaurants, and the last tatters of civilization.

What I Liked the Least: Given how dangerous Stephen’s world is, life inside Settler’s Landing felt a little too good to be true.  They grow crops, they’ve got nice homes, a school, and books.  They play baseball.  They still have supplies of modern medicines.  And most of the kids there feel happy-go-lucky and normal.  I know that’s the point – that Settler’s Landing is a symbol of what’s possible, and a town Stephen comes to feel is worth fighting for – but it still felt too good to be true.  I think the story would have come across as a little more genuine if Settler’s Landing had been less than perfect.  Because in reality it Stephen would probably have seen it as a safe haven no matter how and desperate the townspeople were.

How Good was the Action? Don’t go into this book expecting non-stop action.  That said there are some excellent scenes that portray Stephen as a kid with the heart of a hero, fighting in a world of slavers and mercenaries.  The fights aren’t brutal, but they are rough, and Hirsch does a great job of balancing the combat with Stephen’s own revved up emotions.  It makes for some fairly intense action.

My only complaint is that Stephen keeps putting his hand on his knife and threatening to use it, but never actually does.  It’s like a gun – once you throw a gun into a scene, someone has to shoot it or the reader feels let down.

How Engaging was the Story? The Eleventh Plague was hard to put down.  There were times, particularly when Stephen was getting adjusted to life in Settler’s Landing, going to school and making friends, when the story felt somewhat less compelling.  But things felt apart soon enough, forcing him back out into the world and propelling the story forward.

Overall Assessment: Hirsch has written a first-rate story of apocalypse and redemption.  This is one scary world, a future that at times feels all too possible.  It’s definitely worth a read.

Profanity: Minimal to none

Sex: A kiss or two but not much more

Violence: Yes.  There is some blood, but with the possible exception of the first fight scene in the book none of the action is particularly brutal, and even the first scene has little in the way of blood.

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