A Death-Struck Year

First Lines: In the coming weeks, I would wish that I had done things differently.  Thrown my arms around my brother, perhaps, and said, I love you, Jack.  Words I hadn’t spoken in years.  Or held on a little tighter to Lucy and said, Thank you.  Thank you for watching over me, when my own mother could not.  But the distance between hindsight and foresight is as vast as the Pacific.

I have moved this book to the top of my to-read list multiple times before moving it back down.  I knew I wanted to read it, but I just never got my hands on it.  It wasn’t until a recent trip to the library that I finally found it.

Cleo Berry never thought the Spanish Influenza would come to Portland, Oregon.  New York and Philadelphia, where the flu has already spread, may well be another country.  But Portland is no longer safe.  Schools, theatres, and businesses close down.  Everyone in the city is panicking and in survival mode.  Cleo just wants to ride out the sickness in the safety of her own home, pretending the danger outside isn’t happening.  But when the Red Cross desperately asks for volunteers, Cleo can’t pretend any longer.  She begins helping complete strangers and is surprised by how much she comes to care for them.  Strangers like Edmund, a former med student and war vet.  Strangers that could be gone tomorrow.  And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder when her own luck will run out.

Ever since I read In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, I’ve been super intrigued by the Spanish Influenza and how it completely changed the US for a few weeks of panic.  (And for those of you who remember, the Spanish Influenza is what nearly killed Edward Cullen before Carlisle saved him.  Random trivia for the win.)

This was a good, gritty read.  But boy, did it not shy away from the gristly details.  This is your fair warning.  If you have issues with blood, vomit, or needles being stuck in places they wouldn’t normally be stuck, you may want to tread carefully.  There’s a lot of blood.  And a lot about the smell of sickness.  Enjoy!

Cleo was an excellent lead for this story.  She’s not overly helpful, nor is she completely selfish.  She’s a pretty typical 17 year old who wants to be treated like an adult, but can’t always handle the responsibilities that comes with being an adult.  Her innocence is shattered with the pandemic, and yet she still has enough heart that she keeps helping people time and time again.  That won me over.

But even with all those gory, gross details I mentioned, there are also much nicer things in this story.  Friendship.  Cute guys.  I’m not going to go so far as to say there’s a lot of humor in this book (because there’s definitely not), but it’s about more than the deadly flu.  Oh, and this story does get emotional sometimes.  Keep the tissues handy.

This is my personal opinion, but this won me over simply because it focused on the Spanish Influenza.  I think a lot of the time, it gets greatly overshadowed because of World War I.  (We are talking about 1918, after all.)  But it’s so interesting how these cities became completely unrecognizable.  People walked around with gauze masks on to try to keep them safe (it didn’t always work).  Neighbors turned on each other.  Families turn each other out if someone became sick.  Fear crept through the cities like a fog. This flu could take down healthy 22-year olds as easily as it could take down a newborn.  It was terrifying.

History lesson over.

Overall, I found it to be a lovely read, though the details were sometimes a bit much.  I did not need to know where the vomit ended up, thank you.

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