Over Spring Break, my family traveled to New Hampshire — mostly because two years ago I ordered my husband custom Peter Limmer boots, and time was running out for him to have his feet professionally measured by the bootmaker. Everywhere I travel with my family, I have a few must-dos: have an awesome breakfast, go on an epic walk, and patronize a local coffeeshop and bookstore. While in North Conway, N.H., I visited a lovely community bookstore called White Birch Books. I came upon it after a leisurely stroll through town, and of course I just had to stop in and see what it was like.
The afternoon I stumbled in, White Birch had just hosted an author reading/signing. The author seemed local, and his book was about nature-based therapy. I don’t remember his name, or the name of his book, but the crowd was excited for him, and it was easy to get caught up in the warmth of the well wishers. The bookstore is small but well stocked, and the YA section was two large bookcases filled with a beautifully curated selection of books, from bestsellers to critical darlings to a few “Quiet YA” picks. I wanted to buy a book, but I already owned or had read most of the YA picks, and the one literary fiction title I was itching to read was out of stock, so I asked for suggestions.
The bookseller pointed me in the direction of a Staff Pick for A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR by Makiia Lucier. As I said in my Goodreads review, the title (which was recently released in paperback) was never on my radar (it first came out in 2014), and I’m so glad I took the bookseller’s advice and bout it. The book follows Cleo Barry, a posh 17-year-old orphan who lives with her much-older brother and his wife, who ends up stuck alone in Portland during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu on the West Coast in 1918. With her brother and sister-in-law out of town, she’s supposed to stay at her school, but she leaves and winds up volunteering for the Red Cross — a role that changes her life forever.
In many ways it reminded me of OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee or any of Ruta Sepetys’ books: historical setting, intelligent main character capable of extraordinary kindness and generosity, and a sweet but not distracting romance. I definitely recommend this to fans of historical YA.
A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR by Makiaa Lucier
HMH Books, 288 pages | Buy it on IndieBound ~ Amazon
More about the book:
A deadly pandemic, a budding romance, and the heartache of loss make for a stunning coming-of-age teen debut about the struggle to survive during the 1918 flu.
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.
It doesn’t look like Lucier has any other books coming out (at least that are on Goodreads), but I’ll definitely read whatever she writes next. And if you’re in Central New Hampshire, definitely check out White Birch Books!