Thursday, February 23, 2012

Plague books

There's something fascinating, in a scary way, about plagues and epidemics--perhaps because we know how vulnerable we are. A plague is the kind of disaster that can't be fought off with guns and explosions, but with brains and research, with vision and commitment.

If you have any interest in nonfiction on this topic, I highly recommend Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On. It's the story of AIDS and HIV: of the people who lived and died and lost, of communities that were devastated, of researchers who struggled to understand this mysterious new disease and then to try to cure it, of public health professionals who tried to prevent it, of politicians who controlled funding and government response. It starts with individual cases, then grows to cover a web of interconnected cases, and ultimately deals with the machinery of a global society.

I've been thinking about this because I just finished reading Megan Crewe's novel about a mysterious plague, The Way We Fall.

Teenager Kaelyn starts out the novel trying to improve herself and cope with the loss of a friendship, but it isn't long before she and her town are dealing with a bigger, more urgent matter: a strange new illness that turns out to be fatal in almost all cases. The diary format and the character's change from personal interests to the sacrifices triggered by a life-or-death situation, along with the slow but steady increase in tension and the inexorable raising of the stakes, reminded me of Susan Beth Pfeffer's riveting Life As We Knew It.

The Way We Fall has the benefit of being both plot- and character-driven. It was a pleasure and a relief to encounter protagonists who are smart, who don't do inexplicably stupid things just to force a plot twist (a peeve of mine). Which isn't to say they always do the right thing, but that their behavior makes sense. Despite the inevitable sadness (you know some characters are going to die in a plague novel), there are bright spots and triumph as well. Although this is the first book of a trilogy and certain questions remain at the end of the book, the story ends at a satisfying place.

source of recommended reads: bought


  1. If you love this sort of thing, I recommend Julie Chibbaro's DEADLY. YA historical fiction about the hunt for the source of typhoid fever at the turn of the twentieth century.

    1. Ooh! I did read a nonfiction book about the researchers who discovered the source of several diseases. Yellow fever was definitely one of them, and typhoid might have been another. (There was a story in the book about some guy who didn't believe in microorganisms publicly swallowing either contaminated water or a culture of the microorganisms to prove the scientists wrong. And he didn't get sick, though the scientists were right--he must've had a heck of an immune system. I think that was about typhoid, but not sure.)