Set in 1918, Makiia Lucier's account of the Spanish influenza and its impact on the city of Portland, Oregon, painted a vivid picture of the devastation this sickness brought to just one city.
Cleo is seventeen, a high school student, who lives with her older brother and his wife after her parents died when she was a young girl. Her brother and sister-in-law happen to be in San Francisco when the announcement comes that the schools are shutting down. Cleo decides on her own to make her way home where she will wait for their return. While there, Cleo volunteers for the Red Cross, visiting homes to ensure those who live there have not been afflicted by the flu.
Although not everyone who comes down with this strain of flu dies, this illness is a serious one, and Cleo is exposed to the sickness time after time. She continues to put herself in harm's way, and as her brother and sister-in-law are detained on their trip, more and more people come down with the flu, including another volunteer that Cleo has become friends with.
I was skeptical about this book, simply because the topic of the Spanish influenza seems so depressing and morbid, yet once I began reading I couldn't put it down. I credit Lucier with creating a character so likeable and human. Cleo, the narrator, is someone easy to relate to, even though she lived a century ago. I found this book in the YA section of the library, but think middle schoolers might enjoy it as well. There is a little bit of romance in it, but the content is still appropriate for younger readers.
Anyone who grew up in my generation might find A Death Struck Year similar to a Sunfire Romance (circa 1980s). Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams is another tween novel dealing with the flu of 1918, and was one of my daughter's favorite books.