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Historical YA Fiction Dealing with Pandemics

10 Jun

Events like COVID-19 have happened in the United States before! They just had a different name like the Yellow Fever Epidemic or the Spanish Flu. Regardless of its name, sicknesses like this have many of the same devastating effects on the people exposed to them. Here are two historical fiction YA books that can give you a new perspective on how people in the past fought their version of COVID-19. 

A Death-Struck Year
by Makiia Lucier
Death Struck Year

World War I is happening overseas, and the Spanish Flu is in town. Walk with Cleo on her journey of survival and coming of age in A Death Struck Year. She was stranded in her Oregon town with no one; her parents died years before, and her brother is in another city. A quarantine is enacted in her village. She learns of her mortality through her volunteer work with the Red Cross. Cleo goes door-to-door knowing that she’s putting herself In harm’s way, but can’t help but help others. 

Fever, 1793
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever 1793

 The Yellow Fever of 1793 is seen through the eyes of a teenage Matilda Cook in Fever, 1793. It was not enough that America had just gained its independence from Britain only ten years before. An epidemic runs rampant in what was then the capital of the United States, Philadelphia. People were getting sick, and no one knew how it was spreading or how to fight it. Matilda’s mother sends her to live with family outside of town but is turned away because of quarantine orders. When Matilda gets sick, she learns through the experience, how much this disease impacts the city. Just as she recovers, her widowed mother gets sick. The reader gets to see Matilda learn to grow up fast and even risk helping others in a time of chaos. A great nonfiction book to pair with this fiction book choice is An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy that is also available on eBook through Hoopla and eLibrary NJ.  Both eLibraryNJ and eBCCLS also offer Fever, 1793 as a digital audiobook.

Interested in sharing your own story during pandemic; click here to learn more.

Written by:
Elbie Love
YA Library Associate

Be Swept Up in David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

8 Jun

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
The year is 1799, and the setting is Japan. Specifically, the island of Dejima, a toehold of trade in a country that largely practiced isolationism. The Dutch East Indies Company is allowed to engage in shipping there, and it is where the main character, Jacob de Zoet, is stationed. Working as a bookkeeper, he has been assigned the task of identifying irregularities in the trade ledgers — fraud and smuggling being the order of the day.

David Mitchell brings this historic novel alive with period details and a cast of colorful characters. Actually, perhaps a few too many characters. An intricate story located in such a setting needs a host of characters to explain the backstory, populate the scene with shipmen and traders, the locals, the language interpreters, and the ruling hierarchy in political power. Reading the book in digital form helps the reader keep the characters straight as it is easy to search the text for a name that you know you’ve seen previously but momentarily can’t identify.

Jacob de Zoet, who came to Dejima to earn enough money to impress his Dutch girlfriend’s father and have him agree to the marriage match, finds himself becoming obsessed with a local woman, Orito, who works as a midwife.

De Zoet struggles with his obsession, trying to adjust to living in a totally foreign culture, his morals and heritage, and walking the fine line of performing his job while trying not to alienate his peers.

David Mitchell is a masterful writer that swept me up in the setting and rich relationships of the characters. The book was utterly believable, moving, and succeeded in transporting me far away from pandemic isolation. Which is not to say that there were parts that revulsed me — it was a brutal and difficult age, particularly for women.

This book is available as an eBook from eLibraryNJ and eBCCLS.

David Mitchell’s newest book, Utopia Avenue, is scheduled to be published July 14. It is described as being about the 1967 Psychedelic music scene. What intrigued me was the mention of guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet. Can’t wait to see the connection and read this new one!

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

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