This post-apocalyptic story lines up the usual suspects for its plot: a combination nuclear and biological war that wipes out most of the world (“The Collapse”); ragtag stragglers divided into cutthroat opportunists on the one hand, and desperate remnants of people with morality on the other; rusted, twisted wreckage that sometimes yields a bonus item of long-lost food; and a handful of people who have enough love, hope, grit, and perseverance to survive the worst and save the future. (Generally among this group is a boy with hair that flops over his face and a crooked grin, and a saucy, snarky and good-looking girl who is unable to resist boys with floppy hair and crooked grins.)
In The Eleventh Plague, some twenty years have elapsed since The Collapse, and Stephen Quinn, along with his cowed father and cruel grandfather have been living as scavengers. The grandfather dies, and the father has an accident and goes into a coma, so now Stephen is on his own. Fortunately, after escaping from some vicious slavers, he is rescued by some oddly nice people, who offer to take Stephen and his comatose dad into their community.
Stephen doesn’t understand the mentality of “nice,” and is suspicious of the inhabitants of this new place called Settler’s Landing. But not everyone there welcomes outsiders, and that creates some huge problems. Moreover, the slavers don’t take to escapees very well, and haven’t given up on following Stephen. And then there is a saucy, snarky, and good-looking girl named Jenny who happens to live in his new community….
Discussion: This book is quite readable, but is not without some drawbacks. There’s not a lot of world-building, and thus the apocalyptic scenario raises some credibility issues. (E.g., the purported cause of the nuclear holocaust is a bit eyeball-rolling. And what, no problems with water or soil only 20 years following that nuclear devastation?) But okay, with this genre, I’m willing to take “post-apocalyptic” as given, and move on. Then, however, we get to the characterizations.
Jenny and Stephen fall for each other after absolutely no interaction whatsoever. And this romance causes each of them to undergo a personality transformation. Again, I will accept that, given the raging hormones besetting teenagers, they generally don’t need to take compatibility tests in order to feel a pull toward a total stranger. But the love-induced changes were a bit harder to imagine. In fact, I had trouble keeping up with who Jenny was from moment to moment. Stephen’s growth path was more linear, but mighty fast.
There were some aspects to the plot I liked a lot, such as the role baseball plays in “civilizing” Stephen, and the relationship between Stephen and Jenny’s mother Violet, who fills a mothering role that Stephen soaks up like a lost lamb, which, in a way, he is.
I also liked the little tribute to reading that is included in the story. Stephen is teaching a little girl to read, and tells her she will probably like the book he is using, which is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
“‘But…why?’ Claudia asked… ‘I mean, it’s not even real.’
…’I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I guess … maybe it makes you realize that other worlds are possible.’”
And that, in a nutshell, is the theme of the book.
Evaluation: This is not a hugely original story, but it’s not bad, and has some page-turner aspects I appreciated.
Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2011