(review) THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE by Jeff Hirsch

Author: Jeff Hirsch
Release Date: Out now (Sept. 01, 2011)
Publisher: Scholastic
Received: nook book (So I couldn't get it signed at Children's Book World last week!)


The wars that followed The Collapse nearly destroyed civilization. Now, twenty years later, the world is faced with a choice—rebuild what was or make something new.

 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.

This is one of THE scariest books I've ever read.  It's not scary in a horrific way like a horror movie would be.  It's not straight-up nightmare-creepy the way that one scene in Neal Shusterman's UNWIND (Yes, THAT scene) is.  So what makes this book so scary?  The fat that it could be TRUE.  Someday, if countries start bombing one another in a full-scale nuclear World War III, the world of THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE could become our reality.  Author Jeff Hirsch throws in known brands such as Safeway shopping bags and a dilapidated AT&T billboard.  He hints at brands we all know and use.  He shows how meaningless everything is in this new world.  Even basic amenities we all take for granted are gone.  It's scary.

Hirsch's debut novel takes place in a torn-up world known as The United States before the collapse.  He has been traveling from one coast to the other and back again with his father and grandfather for years.  They trade what they can find in order to live another day.  He loses his grandfather to the plague and only has his father to rely on...until a freak accident threatens to take him away, too.  His mother died years ago during childbirth because there had been no way to get her--or the baby--help while traveling.  While attempting to outrun slavers, Stephen encounters a group of people living in Settler's Landing, a small community of people who have managed to band together and build a semblance of the way life was before the Collapse.  There's medicine, a school, even houses and beds!  But not everyone is happy that Stephen and his father have arrived from the outside and want them gone, never stopping to think of the repercussions to come.

THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE is thought-provoking and raw.  It really made me think about how lucky we all are right now with everything we take for granted.  I hope we never come to a time when that is taken away in such a destructive manner.  I really liked the fact that the book revolved around a male protagonist.  We need more such characters in YA.  At times, I didn't love the way Stephen and another character, Jenny, handled certain situations.  I also don't believe that Hirsch is a bigot the way many other reviewers are claiming.  Is there anti-Chinese sentiment?  Yes, but one country did have to destroy another.  No matter what country Hirsch chose, someone would get upset.  He does include a central character who is of Chinese descent to give a fleshed-out example that shows not everyone is evil.  He shows the way this character is accepted into the lives of people who can still choose to love her as a person.  The only way Hirsch could have completely sidestepped using any one country as a "villain" would be to make all the countries into fictitious ones, but that would lessen the impact of "This could really happen to us" that comes from having everything in the book be connected to reality.  At a book signing with Hirsch last week, I was sad when the author mentioned that the book is a stand-alone. There's a certain event toward the end of the book that I'd love to see expanded in a future companion title.  I'm still holding out hope!


I actually featured THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE as a Cover Crazy back in March.  

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I'm going to be lazy and copy/paste what I wrote about the cover back then: 

 Maybe it's not beautiful, persay, but it's gripping nonetheless. If you're a Dystopian lover, I bet you just fell a little bit in love based on this cover, yes? 

What a grim world we're looking at! That green-tinged sky really sets the mood. There's the broken rock to the right of the car that might have once been a building and--um, yeah, the CAR. It's completely torn apart. The hood is gone. All its bits and pieces are hanging out. I'm dying to know what it represents, what it symbolizes. Plus, despite all the debris in the foreground, if you look in the distance, you see what appears to be a fully-functioning ferris wheel. At least, I assume it is. It doesn't look decrepit, but whole and intact. This book makes me want to pick it up and read the back jacket to find out MORE (or, as the case may be, go over to Goodreads for a summary). 

 Plus, Dystopian lovers, did you see? Suzanne Collins, the brain behind THE HUNGER GAMES, blurbed his book. She says it "hits disturbingly close to home" and is "taut." 

[This entry is part of The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]

[This entry is part of Bookish Ardour's Reading Challenges' Dystopian Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]


  1. Oh I do so love a good/freaky post-apocalyptic novel that might actually happen! Those are most definitely always the worst!

    And ya, it's always good to stop and think about all we are taking for granted.


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