Rating: Significant Shortcomings
Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate
Author: Makiia Lucier
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A Death-struck Year tells the story of Cleo Berry, a seventeen-year-old Oregon resident who finds herself in the midst of the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. Based on true events, the devastation affecting hundreds of men, women, and children are experienced through Cleo’s perspective and conscious decisions to leave no one “unattended.” As a child once left behind when both of her parents were killed in a carriage accident, Cleo takes great risks to find and save those too sick to get care. Driven by the events of the influenza occurring over a four-month period, and propelled in her quest to find her own unique identity, Cleo finds courage by coming in contact with people who bravely fight to conquer illness, fiercely protect family members, and who jeopardize their own health to take care of the sick.
Cleo as the main protagonist in the story is the strongest character and easily draws readers into her perspective and experience. It was however difficult to “buy into” the conflicting tension in her character of being incredibly naïve and childish on one hand (not knowing how to do laundry, making irrational decisions, not wearing a mask, walking alone in the rain) while at the same time respecting her valiant and what seemed to be very deliberate choices. Additionally readers may want more depth and development with all of the characters but especially Cleo’s parents. The invisible parents in this story feel like the underdeveloped role of parents in many children’s books and movies and suggests that parents have to be non-existent for children to do brave things.
*Contains graphic descriptions of death and mature themes.