A teen girl struggles to survive the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918.
In her brother’s care since the much earlier loss of their parents, 17-year-old Cleo Berry longs for freedom and adventure, even as she languishes under the expectations of upper-middle-class society in Portland, Ore. When her brother and his wife leave for an anniversary trip, Cleo moves into the dormitory of her school. Already living under the constant dread of bad news from the World War I front, the students and staff of the school find themselves now facing a new threat, drawing closer each day—the dreaded Spanish flu. After the school is closed by the Portland Health Department, Cleo sneaks out and returns to her vacant family home. She answers a call from the Red Cross for volunteers and learns to overcome her fears as she fights to help educate the community and bring the sick to shelters. Lucier adopts a first-person narration, which is sometimes too formal and stilted (even given the historical setting), but she expertly weaves in historical details (including snippets from Sanger’s controversial birth control writings). Readers will be swept up in the story as Cleo builds friendships and manages to find hope amid disease and death.
A notable debut. (historical note, further reading) (Historical fiction. 12-18)