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The Scourge


The Scourge

The country of Keldan is troubled. Beyond the class (and potential race) divide of “Townsfolk” and “River people,” people in the country have been contracting an ancient disease --- one that always ends in the death of those afflicted. Ani, a river person and our protagonist, discovers, to her dismay, that she has contracted the disease, and must be taken to an old prison that has been repurposed to house those who have been afflicted with the Scourge in their final days. Quickly, Ani learns that the government of Keldan is not being honest with its people and that those who take the medicine provided to them only seem to get sicker. With the help of her childhood friend, Weevil, a rich townsfolk named Della and an assortment of ragtag survivors, the Colonists discover the true cause of the Scourge: that the disease facing the people of Keldan is fabricated by their governor.

"Beautifully written and with some truly challenging themes, Jennifer Nielsen's story ultimately does a great job of posing some tough questions to young readers...."

While reading THE SCOURGE, I occasionally put down the book to talk to my roommate, who has a degree in political science and is working on her Masters in English, about various aspects of the book --- because SCOURGE is billed as being for middle readers, and it is written for middle readers, but some of the concepts and themes the book tackles feel intense. In a word, the book is libertarian; it is pretty bluntly anti-government. Beneath the wonderful story of a dystopian society ravaged by plague is the necessary discussion about the evils that government can accomplish, even while trying to accomplish good. I was consistently surprised (in a good way, mostly) by the way Nielsen handles these issues --- certainly, she does so deftly.

I was, admittedly, a little disappointed in two aspects of the novel: that Weevil and Ani wound up falling in love and that the evil governor character was a woman.

Although I did smile when Ani and Weevil eventually kissed and I did see it coming, I was desperately hoping they would just remain best friends. The middle reader and YA market is, quite frankly, oversaturated with love stories between two best friends, a boy and a girl, who develop a romance as a subplot: it would have been really wonderful and neat to see a different outcome of their friendship, other than romance.

A book with a female governor who is, for all intents and purposes, evil, is not revolutionary: it is boring and overdone, and in our political climate today, dangerous. Although SCOURGE posed some truly magnificent questions about the morality of war and of avoiding going to war, and what a country may or may not do in order to avoid war or plague, I did feel let down by the evil, corrupt woman governor.

When all is said and done, though, THE SCOURGE was a really wonderful read that made me think and surprised me consistently throughout the book. I found that as I was reading it, I couldn’t stop talking about it: I tore through it quickly, reading most of it in one sitting, because I just had to know what happened, what caused the disease, and how the people of Keldan would respond. In the end, all loose ends are tied up in satisfactory ways. Beautifully written and with some truly challenging themes, Jennifer Nielsen's story ultimately does a great job of posing some tough questions to young readers --- questions they may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Reviewed by Adrian Meyers on August 29, 2016

The Scourge
by Jennifer A. Nielsen