A Death Struck Year was one of those books that I bought ages ago, but kind of just sat on my shelf and never got read until recently. I’m not always big on historical fiction, and I really have to be in the mood for it, because I know there is a lot of stuff to pay attention to. That being said, when I did read A Death Struck Year, it was kind of on a whim (okay, I let my kids pick a book for me to read because I couldn’t decide on one), so maybe the fact that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped may have stemmed from that.
Cleo Berry and her brother and sister-in-law all live together in a nice house. She is a seventeen-year-old-girl who is witnessing the beginning of a pandemic – the Spanish Influenza. While at first she isn’t too worried -after all, New York and Philadelphia are both incredibly far away from Oregon – eventually the cases begin to show up a little too close for comfort. When her school is quarantined, she has no interest in staying there, choosing to sneak out and go home to ride it out there.
My schoolmates at least had an inkling of a plan. I had nothing. No plan. No dream. No calling. The uncertainty bothered me, like a speck in the eye that refused to budge.
However, it doesn’t quite work out the way she plans. The Red Cross announce that they need volunteers to care for the sick and to help educate those in the area, as well as go around looking for victims of the flu. Cleo, who doesn’t feel like she has anything else to offer, decides that she wants to sign up to be a part of the Red Cross’s efforts – and since her brother and his wife are out of town, there isn’t anyone around to stop her. So she follows what she believes is her calling.
She meets a new friend and a boy who she doesn’t plan to fall for, but does. All the while, she learns devastating news about how the Spanish Influenza if affecting those around her, and is forced to come to terms with the harsh reality that is sweeping across the nation.
I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t fall in love with A Death-Struck Year. I love books that deal with topics such as the one here, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it. There were moments when I found myself incredibly sad and feeling the emotions of the main character, Cleo, but I didn’t really feel like I connected to her, either.
This book was really detailed when it came down to the flu itself – there was a lot of talk about it, how it spread, and how it affected people. It was actually very frightening to think about…it really makes you consider your own mortality.
The romance aspect of this book was kind of brief, but at the same time it felt overwhelming. There was no chemistry between Cleo and her love interest, and it felt kind of forced. I didn’t enjoy that part of the book at all. I kind of wish the author had just skipped the whole love interest thing and focused on the historical concept and the friendship, even.
The friendship aspect between Cleo and the girl she is paired with while she is volunteering with the Red Cross is both heartwarming and heartbreaking; it was the kind of friendship that you love to read about.
All in all, I feel like the novel really tried to cram too many elements into one story. There was the historical concept, the horrifying Spanish flu, a friendship, and a romance. Since the book wasn’t really that long, most of it kind of felt stunted, as though there could have been so much more attention paid to all of these ideas, lengthening the book and maybe giving it a little more substance.
The afterword in the book explains the Spanish Flu, which is helpful for those who may not know much about it. It’s definitely something you should read after reading the story; don’t skip it, because it really gives you an insight as to how awful this pandemic really was.