This debut novel of Makiia Lucier fills up the Young-adult/Juvenile/Historic fiction genre with its historically appropriate and emotionally driven recollections. From its apprehensive start to the contemplative close, A Death-Struck Year captures the readers’ imagination and attention. Despite the grisly descriptions about Spanish Influenza, and sadness accompanied by several characters dying in the novel, the readers can find a sense of hope and comfort in the lead character Cleo’s relationships with the staff at Red Cross. She develops a romantic relationship with Doctor Edmund Parrish, a wounded army doctor. Despite their growing romance, the author has not made it the core of this historical fiction, therefore making the real purpose of this story the effect the Spanish influenza had on the society at the time of World War I. The fast-paced hustle in the story gives the readers a sense of the speed with which the Spanish Influenza spread from one corner of America to another.
Characters and Outline
The main character of A Death-Struck Year is Cleo Berry, a young girl stuck at her boarding school and reflecting on her life. The other two characters associated with her are his brother and sister-in-law, Jack and Lucy, who are also her guardians. At the time of her volunteering at the Red Cross, Cleo befriended Kate Bennett, a young girl of her age who has many relatives. Cleo also ends up meeting her romantic interest, Doctor Edmund Parrish, who Cleo finds quite attractive.
Despite the World War raging in Europe, for many people in America and Cleo, the real scare is the flu or Spanish Influenza. When the epidemic sparks in Portland, with a series of haphazard events, Cleo finds herself alone. Noticing the plea for nurses at the local makeshift hospital for the Influenza patients, she chooses to volunteer. Some of the volunteers last just one day, some last not even for a few hours – being surrounded with death and suffering is too much for many of them. Cleo’s personal history makes her return every day, to offer assistance and comfort to the patients in need. Challenging the readers to start thinking about what they would be enduring when people around them are dying, A Death-Struck Year is the compelling story of Cleo, a young girl who has no idea what she wants and has no plans for the future, but she bravely steps up during the desperate hour.
All the characters in the book have sensible names befitting their era, but there is a lack of distinction that is combined with weak characterization that makes this book a muddled read. The main character, Cleo is the perfect “everygirl” who lacks the special something that was needed to take the character to the next level. Her love interest, Lieutenant Edmund Parrish, is infinitely swooning and his character also suffers from the same simplicity as Cleo. Also, in the middle of the story there is an unnecessary detour into the discussion regarding the birth control for women, it seems unnecessary. This can confuse many readers and seems like a misguided attempt by the author to add social context to the plot.
The main character Cleo is a person with which many young girls will find easy to relate. There is an interesting parallel between the character of Cleo, a girl based in 1918 and many girls in 2014. In both these situations girls need to make several huge decisions and life choices, these include choosing a college, deciding majors and future careers and livelihoods. The story explains how Cleo grows up through the course of the story from a confused girl to a brave character helping and assisting the people in need during the outbreak of Spanish influenza. This unexpected bravery and quiet heroic nature, makes the character admirable.
The opening line of the story is one of the most attractive features and ensures that the reader gets plugged to read ahead.
“ In the coming weeks, I would wish I had done things differently”.
In A Death-Struck Year starts with the lead character Cleo Berry, alone at her boarding school revealing that she wished that she had treated her family Jack (brother) and Lucy (sister-in-law) in a better way. Cleo was very young when her parents died, since then her brother Jack and his spouse Lucy have been her guardians. This line at the start of the story is a reflection of her thoughts about the events that are about to transpire and how she wishes she had options to do things in a different manner. This line is her regret and acceptance of her mistakes and shows the honesty of the main character.
This book is for everyone who loves fiction and history coming together to tell a tale of love, bravery, feelings, fear and regret. I personally loved the story A Death-Struck Year.
I liked that the story tells how Spanish Influenza spread from the East Coast to the Western Coast. I liked reading how the Americans combated the flu by keeping their windows open while sleeping, wearing masks and taking walks. It was interesting to get a glance into the past, and learn how people dealt with Spanish influenza without the medical facilities available today. The story ends with a morose note that is arguably appropriate as the subject or purpose is the epidemic that devastates many cities.
Lucier, M. A. Death Struck Year . United States : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Print.