Book Review: A Death-Struck Year

A Death-Struck Year
Published By: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction

The WWI era is not one of my areas of historical expertise, but I am fascinated by what was happening on the home-front during this time period. One of the major aspects of 1918 is the Spanish Influenza outbreak. One of my favorite reads of 2013 was In the Shadow of Blackbirds which approaches the outbreak from a paranormal angle. I was excited to read a pure historical fiction approach. I wanted to know more about the outbreak and the medical practices of the time period.

I was shocked to learn of how quickly the disease spread throughout the United States. Many people thought the disease would be contained within the eastern portion of the country. In fact, the main character, Cleo Berry, states, "A particularly fierce strain of flu, it had made its way down the eastern seaboard, sending entire families to the hospitals, crippling the military training bases. The newspapers were filled with gruesome tales from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Cities so far away, they could have been part of another country. But that was the extent of it. We were safe here in Oregon. In Portland. The Spanish flu had no interest in the Northwest states" (ARC, pg. 6). I was somewhat shocked by how so many people in the novel seemed to follow this mindset; there were few characters who seemed to be overly anxious by the news stories from other states.

The medical history was fascinating. I found it heartbreaking that they didn't have a cure or a vaccine for the Spanish Influenza. These are things that we take for granted in our current society. I would have been terrified to live during 1918. More people died from the Spanish Influenza than the Bubonic Plague; this little detail blew my mind. The text is littered with factoids that I gobbled up like Skittles. I was impressed with Lucier's ability to meld fact and fiction.

The historical pieces are strong and appealing, but I also enjoyed the fictional aspects. Cleo first appears to be a little whiny and headstrong. It soon becomes clear that Cleo is desperately seeking her identity. She is envious of her classmates who have future plans; she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Things are disrupted when the flu descends on Portland. Cleo's independent streak shines through when she sneaks away from her school to stay alone at her home. She goes against everything society tells her a well education girl from a wealthy family should be. She chooses to ignore the instructions of  Jack, her older brother and guardian, in order to become a volunteer for the Red Cross.

Cleo's experiences working for the Red Cross are bittersweet. There were moments that I was in awe of her bravery, moments I felt a kinship with her, and moments that made me bawl like a baby. In spite of the difficult moments, there were moments of happiness. I loved the friendship that develops between Cleo and Kate. There is also a romance that develops for Chloe that was sweet and realistic. I liked that even though this happens over a short time span that the romantic feelings take time to develop. I understand that sometimes tragic circumstances can bring people closer in a shorter time frame. The time frame did not bother me in the slightest.

A Death-Struck Year has easily earned a spot on my 2014 favorites shelf. I immediately pre-ordered a hardcover copy the moment I finished the ARC. 

One Last Gripe: This was an ARC I had to read on my laptop using Adobe Digital Editions. I find this highly annoying; I would much rather read a physical copy or on my Kindle.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved learning more about the Spanish Influenza and the medical practices in the early 1900's.

First Sentence: In the coming weeks, I would wish that I had done things differently.

Favorite Character: Cleo

Least Favorite Character: Cleo's Neighbor

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.


  1. Oh, I loved Blackbirds and would love to know more about this period in time. Thanks!

    1. I highly recommend this one. It was fabulous!

  2. LOVE when we see what happened domestically during a time when the whole world was in upheaval.

    All characters sound realistic and relatable because of flaws, but I also enjoy seeing what happened in the medical and scientific and nursing fields!!

    Lovely review :)

    1. I am also interested in seeing how things played out on the homefront during times of war. Medical history is also fascinating.

  3. I'm not sure about whether I heard about this book or not in the past few months, but it sounds interesting. Especially since it's a story about the Spanish Influenza. Something that happened so long ago, but is also a lesson on what could happen again anytime. Like with the Ebola outbreak, that was a close call. Sometimes I think about it and wonder if it really is gone from the U.S., but we could never really know that if people that are higher up are keeping it under wraps. Hopefully a situation like the Spanish Influenza never happens again. Just the thought of it is frightening.

    1. I read this before the Ebola outbreak, but I agree that there are many comparisons between the two events. This is another example of history repeating itself.

  4. I think the cover is a little misleading -- it looks very modern. I'm glad I read your review to know that I would in fact be interested in this book. I like historical fiction.

    1. I had never considered the cover looking modern before, but now that you point it out, I can see how one might think that. I wish they had chosen a more "historical" cover. Perhaps something like the Cat Winters covers would have worked.


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