January 22nd, 2017 by Karen
Question: What do you get when you combine the terror of a deadly epidemic with the suspense of a government conspiracy? Answer: A pretty gripping story involving mystery, bravery, friendship, family, prejudice, corruption, and snakes. (Yes, I do mean literal snakes. On fire. Just wait for it.)
The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen takes place in a country ravaged by a highly contagious, very painful, and absolutely fatal disease. To contain the spread of sickness, the governor has come up with a program of containment: Test people before they start showing symptoms, and anyone found to be carrying the scourge is sent to an island hospital to live out the rest of their days in quarantine.
One day, Ani and her friend Weevil get taken in for testing. They should be safe because up to that point, only townspeople had tested positive for the scourge; Ani and Weevil’s families and the other River People avoided interaction with the townspeople as much as possible. (Bigotry and oppression can do that.)
But soon Ani and Weevil are on their way to Attic Island, where they discover that the conditions are far from the rosy picture painted by the government. Why are patients being put to work instead of resting and healing? What happens inside the separate infirmary building? How come the wardens never get sick? Ani is determined to find out.
If you’re a fan of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendence Trilogy, then you will definitely enjoy The Scourge. Just like in that series, this book will keep you guessing with plenty of double crosses, hidden agendas, unexpected alliances, and political intrigue. (And even a little romance.)
This book also reminded me a bit of Icefall by Matthew Kirby and The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. All three stories feature a strong female protagonist who must unite a people and struggle against powerful forces — all in fictional countries/kingdoms far from our present day nation.
On the other hand, even though the country in The Scourge is fictional, I think Ani could be an inspiration to all of us living in America today. Ani is strong enough to stand up for her beliefs, insist that those in power be held accountable to the people, and work to bring her countrymen (and countrywomen!) together despite deep-rooted prejudice and inequality. I don’t know if the author was inspired by current events, but either way I think Ani and her courage would be a welcome addition to the real world.
Do you also have recommendations of books showcasing major girl power? Share yours in the comments below!
One of Karen’s all-time favorite books is Because of Winn-Dixie, which features a strong female protagonist who changes lives in a way that involves no action/adventure but is still meaningful and dramatic nonetheless. Bringing together people in your own community is important too!