Monday, January 9, 2012
The Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch- Review
Stephen Quinn, a quiet and dutiful fifteen-year-old scavenger, travels Post-Collapse America with his Dad and stern ex-Marine Grandfather. They travel light. They keep to themselves. Nothing ever changes. But when his Grandfather passes suddenly and Stephen and his Dad decide to risk it all to save the lives of two strangers, Stephen's life is turned upside down. With his father terribly injured, Stephen is left alone to make his own choices for the first time.
Stephen’s choices lead him to Settler's Landing, a lost slice of the Pre-Collapse world where he encounters a seemingly benign world of barbecues, baseball games and days spent in a one-room schoolhouse. Distrustful of such tranquility, Stephen quickly falls in with Jenny Tan, the beautiful town outcast. As his relationship with Jenny grows it brings him into violent conflict with the leaders of Settler's Landing who are determined to remake the world they grew up in, no matter what the cost.
I had two main problems with The Eleventh Plague. The first was Stephen's grandfather. We never meet him; page one of the story starts with burying him. After that all we get are snapshot memories of him, even though he was such a powerful figure in both Stephen and his fathers lives he is the cause of all their choices; either because they feel they should stick to his rules or because they want to break the rules at long last. So despite the fact Hirsch is constantly emphasizing how influential and essentially borderline abusive he is, you never feel the fear/control/power he has over Stephen's life choices, I just felt I was endlessly being told I should feel it instead of being made to feel it.
Secondly Jenny. I don't know where to start with Jenny's angst and rebellion. Hirsch essentially tells the reader it is because she's Asian (which is very briefly given the explanation that they are the enemy of the USA and the instigators of the collapse) and thus an automatic outsider although she was adopted and raised by Violet and Marcus from infancy. However there's this whole sub-story line about how restless she is and so maybe it's because she just can't stand being in this small town when there's a world full of adventure (???) out there in the wastelands. One way or another I was never clear on why Jenny was so hateful or why Stephen was so smitten with her and felt so similar to her. After all, he isn't Asian, and has no desire to adventure around the god awful mess of a world he's been forced to roam all these years. His first hand knowledge of how shitty it is seems like it would put Jenny off, but he never shares it which makes for further weirdness.
In the end this story just seemed to have breezed over all the important world and character building in order to get to the story of this town and its issues, which seems to skip over the entire point of a dystopian story to me. And although there were the requisite points made about how shitty humanity is, and why can't we just get along already, I feel it could have been fed to me in a much more enjoyable/story like manner. You know, like Hunger Games.
Sigh, it would seem there are more disappointing dystopians out there then enjoyable ones these days, that damn Hunger Games has given me unreasonable expectations of how good they can be! But I will keep searching, perhaps the much lauded Legend will revive things for me.
The Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch
Published by Scholastic Books, September 2011
Buy The Eleventh Plague on Amazon