Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Lizy Reviews: The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Well, the bad news is, The Scourge did not turn out to be my new favorite book. The good news is, there were still some parts worth reading. Overall, the story didn't do much to catch my interest or create suspense. I guess part of the problem here is I'm a jaded twenty-something amateur critic and this book was intended for middle-grade audiences.

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Tweens Read Too
There is not a lot of description for the setting of this story--we have a few mentions of guns and ships so I would guess the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century. The protagonists Ani and Weevil are from a minority group called the River people but there isn't a lot of explanation as to why they don't get along with the town folk. This world simply isn't developed enough to be satisfying.

The heroine, Ani, tests positive for a disease called the Scourge and she is sent to a colony for other Scourge victims. Ani is a stereotypical "tough" girl, and I couldn't really relate to her, but the feisty heroine has a loyal-to-death best friend named Weevil follows her to the colony.  I could understand Ani's point of view on the town girl she meets, Della, but Ani takes a while to make up her mind whether or not to trust Della. At the colony, the Wardens enforce strict rules and make everyone work, even though they are "sick". Though she is weakened by the sickness, Ani fights back against the Wardens every step of the way. There is a particularly stirring scene when Ani has to climb the treadmill as the other colonists watch and rally around her. Ani also defies the odds to uncover the truth and make her escape, including (my favorite part) climb out of a pit of venomous snakes. 
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Huffington Post

The symptoms of the Scourge made more sense through Ani's observations of the other colonists, especially Della, whereas Ani had no time to sit around and feel sick. The symptoms were mostly internal pain and fatigue, not a fever or cough or something you would expect from a real pandemic disease. It's kind of not hard for the reader to guess what's really going on, but you have to give Ani and Weevil the benefit of a doubt for not having a lot of information about the disease in a world without internet and mass media news outlets. The Governor's evil scheme being revealed is kind of anticlimactic, and at first it doesn't seem to fit with the theme of contagious disease--but then you have to remember, spoiler alert, that this disease isn't real. And I think carries less of a punch because in the scene right before that, we have Ani and company commandeering a ship and it's amazing.

The Scourge is an improvement over Nielsen's last stand-alone book, A Night Divided. But I have yet to see a first-person female narrator in one of her books who actually catches my interest.

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