I've been holding off on reviewing The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch. I felt like I needed to step back from this book so I could be a bit more objective. However, it seems the more I back off, the more I realize I just didn't enjoy the book.
I gave the book 2 stars on my GoodReads because of a few factors:
1. I felt I had been misled by the title and summary and author supports
2. I could barely bring myself to write this review
3. I was bored while I was reading
4. Multiple people asked me about it (while I was toting it to and fro) and I couldn't really ever give them an answer
5. I didn't think it compared to the novels people were comparing it to
That being said, I didn't have much love for this dystopian world that Hirsch led me into.
The Eleventh Plague is the debut novel of author Jeff Hirsch and was quite talked about- even Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games) was quoted saying "The Eleventh Plague hits disturbingly close to home... an excellent, taut, debut novel." and was proudly stamped on the front cover. I saw The Eleventh Plague on more than one "read after The Hunger Games" list, which prompted me to get this book, because even though I read THG a while back, I was still longing for more. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that The Eleventh Plague delivered.
First off, I felt misled by the title and blurb: The Eleventh Plague has a ring of apocalyptic contagion. I knew from the blurb that P11 had wiped out most of America's population, so I wasn't expecting the novel to be solely about the plague- however I was hoping we would get some more background story as well as P11 playing a larger role overall in the novel. We got little background story about the war and the plague and I was left wanting much more.
The main character is a 15 year old salvager- crossing the country with his Dad and Grandfather to find goods to trade. 15 year old Stephen doesn't know anything except life after P11. He was conceived during the aftermath and has grown up crossing the country and trying to survive. This point is developed throughout the story, but again I was looking for more- I wanted to find myself attached to Stephen and his struggles but I just couldn't form a bond. Maybe it was just me (because I have read that some people DID get attached to the characters) but I don't think Hirsch spent enough time developing the characters.
As the reader follows Stephen through the book, we meet different groups of people that are a result of P11. Some of these groups are plain nasty. I did really like the grit and reality of this that Hirsch brought in. Realistically, if the world fell apart, there would be large groups of people who did bad things. The "slaver" groups are one of those- they steal women and children for their "use" in their camps. Brutal.
It is when Stephen and his father run into a group of slavers that all the trouble begins. From there, Stephen eventually finds his way to Settlers Landing- a settlement that seems so very out of place in such desperate times. Homes, schools, parks, and community gatherings are at the heart of Settlers Landing. They even have a doctor. This is so bizarre to Stephen- almost like a tiny utopian society within this mess of a world. The remainder of The Eleventh Plague follows Stephen as he learns to navigate the world within Settlers Landing. A healthy dose of good and bad continues to befall Stephen as he adjusts to Settlers Landing. New characters emerge and some clear "good" vs "evil" themes begin to play out. The utopia within this dystopian society begins to lose its footing, and things begin to fall apart.
Overall, I felt that the story just wasn't developed enough. It didn't hold my attention and more than once I contemplated just quitting. The overall theme is pretty glaring- I understand in many YA novels it is a bit more obvious, but I felt this was just staring me in the face. I must give Hirsch credit though- he didn't sugar coat much... he made it pretty plain and clear that the plague was awful and killed a lot of people. The images he brings to mind while describing the landscape of America is also realistic. I did like how he showed the brutality of humans- how sometimes people just don't care and only want to get ahead. He painted a pretty good picture of both evil for the sake of being evil, and evil for the sake of survival. Hirsch also showed the good in people in times of disrepair. He used Stephen to illustrate the battle between good and evil. As much as I enjoy dystopian novels, this one just didn't quench my thirst.
I must disagree with the lists I have seen as I wouldn't recommend this to those who are looking to fill the void of THG.
I would recommend it to pre-teens looking for a dystopian read- some of my students read it (aged 12 - 13) and enjoyed it because they "didn't have to think" while reading it.
write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow