A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in A Death-Struck Year, 17-year-old Cleo bears intimate witness to illness and death as the Spanish flu epidemic strikes Portland, Ore., in the last months of World War I. There's no violence and very mild gore: Blood and vomit are mentioned or described very briefly several times as symptoms. Although the book's filled with terrific role models and an overall positive message, the death of an important character and the world-weary tone at the end don't leave the reader on a high note.
What's the story?
A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR, by Makiia Lucier, chronicles events of late 1918, when the Spanish flu epidemic hit Portland, Ore. Quarantined at school as the flu spreads, 17-year-old Cleo Berry escapes to make her way home, only to find the house empty. Travel restrictions throughout the Pacific Northwest mean she won't be reunited with her family any time soon, so Cleo decides to make herself useful and volunteers for the Red Cross at an emergency hospital. There she witnesses firsthand the epidemic's devastating toll on families and the community. She can't sit idly by when so many people need help, but how long will it be before she herself succumbs?
Is it any good?
In A Death-Struck Year, first-time author Makiia Lucier creates a strong, believable, and compelling heroine in 17-year-old Cleo Berry. Kids will easily relate to Cleo, who doesn't know what she wants to do with her life and who doesn't think she's anything special; they'll be inspired by her example, not only to help those in need but also to discover that they're capable of more than they think.
The book ends on a rather morose note, which is arguably appropriate given that the subject's an epidemic that decimates whole cities. But, throughout the book, Cleo's narrative voice is fairly light in tone and depth, which makes the bittersweet ending somewhat jarring in comparison. Although kids might be left in a sober mood, they'll have soaked up a lot of history from this absorbing tale, as seen through the eyes of a great girl role model.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about flu vaccines. Do any of your family members get an annual flu vaccination? Why, or why not?
Why are books about diseases and epidemics popular? What can we learn from them? Have you read another books wherein illness is part of the drama? How does this one compare?
If you'd been alive in 1918, would you have volunteered like Cleo did? Have you ever volunteered your services to the community?
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love historical fiction and coming-of-age stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.