Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

A Death-Struck Year

A Death-Struck Year

4.4 7
by Makiia Lucier

See All Formats & Editions

For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country—that's how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival


For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country—that's how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode—and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can't ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can't help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?
   Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?
   An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting.

A Spring 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices selection

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
★ 04/01/2014
Gr 8 Up—Seventeen-year-old Cleo Berry frets over an uncertain future devoid of plans, dreams, and ambitions. However, when the Spanish influenza strikes her hometown of Portland, Oregon, she does not hesitate to volunteer for the American Red Cross. Lucier's vividly accurate description of the 1918 pandemic will make readers tremble over the teen's fate, wondering whether she will be next on the list of victims. Cleo faces the ultimate dilemma: Given a choice between herself and others, who will she choose in the face of calamity? The pace of the writing is swift, and the author spares little in her account of those afflicted and others who sacrificed their own lives to help save them: loved ones and strangers burying individuals on their own without burial societies, members of the Red Cross going door-to-door in search of the sick, and young people dying as easily as their elders from the disease. This first-person narrative is as much Cleo's coming-of-age story as it is a full historical account of the pandemic. The novel's strong voice intimately places readers directly into the dramatic plot right up to climactic ending. Nothing is sugarcoated, making this a difficult pick for the squeamish, who may not easily tolerate the abundant flow of blood and raging fever throughout. The mood of almost hopeless desperation that mounts toward the second half of the book cannot be readily shaken off. In the same vein of Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793 (S. & S., 2000), Lucier's debut novel deserves a place in all high school collections.—Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY
Publishers Weekly
Lucier strikes an appropriately sobering tone in her debut novel, about the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak. Seventeen-year-old orphan Cleo Berry describes the gruesome day-to-day realities in Portland, Ore., as disease ravages her community, brought by contagious visiting soldiers. Resourceful and empathetic, Cleo joins the Red Cross volunteers, distributing informational pamphlets and masks, and seeing to "unattended cases," saving three lives on her first mission. With her brother and his pregnant wife stuck in San Francisco, Cleo befriends fellow volunteers at the transformed Public Auditorium, learns self-reliance, and assists in horrifying medical procedures, while discovering the ambition that aids in her will to survive. Lucier gracefully provides historical verisimilitude with references to bob haircuts, the spread of knowledge about birth control, wartime food shortages and inflation, and the traumatizing effects of the draft. Highly sympathetic characters, a solid sense of place, and the transformation of a city under siege by an invisible assailant result in a powerful and disturbing reading experience. Ages 12–up. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Readers will be swept up in the story as Cleo builds friendships and manages to find hope amid disease and death."

"Highly sympathetic characters, a solid sense of place, and the transformation of a city under siege by an invisible assailant result in a powerful and disturbing reading experience."
—Publishers Weekly

"Lucier has done her research, creating a compelling work of historical fiction alongside a more timeless journey of self-discovery."

• "The novel's strong voice intimately places readers directly into the dramatic plot right up to climactic ending. . . . Lucier's novel deserves a place in all high school collections."
—School Library Journal, starred review

"Lucier's debut details Cleo's loss of innocence, as she deals with gruesome deaths and emergency surgeries...supplying readers with a broad understanding of the era and the epidemic via a spirited and easy-to-relate-to protagonist."

"A rare window into another time and place, one that invites readers to draw parallels to their own lives in contemporary times."
—Horn Book Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
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)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Saturday, September 21, 1918

In the coming weeks, I would wish that I had done things differently. Thrown my arms around my brother, perhaps, and said, I love you, Jack. Words I hadn’t spoken in years. Or held on a little tighter to Lucy and said, Thank you. Thank you for watching over me, when my own mother could not. But the distance between hindsight and foresight is as vast as the Pacific. And on my family’s last evening in the city, my attention was fixed not on gratitude, certainly, but on myself. My sad, sorry, unambitious self.
   Famous American Women: Vignettes from the Past and Present. Curled up on the settee, I read the book from first page to last, hoping inspiration would strike and put an end to my misery. This! This is who you were meant to be, Cleo Berry. Go now and live your life.
   So far no luck.
   I reviewed. Abigail Burgess Grant, lighthouse keeper at Matinicus Rock, Maine. I tried to picture it: the windswept coast, the salty air, the nearest neighbor miles away. No, I thought. Too lonely. I turned the page. Isabella Marie Boyd, wartime spy. Too dangerous. Geraldine Farrar, opera singer. Not nearly enough talent. I lingered over the entry for Eleanor Dumont, first female blackjack player, otherwise known as Madame Mustache. My spirits lifted a little as I imagined my brother’s expression.
   Lucy sat across from me, dressed for dinner and muttering over her itinerary. Jack stood near the parlor’s window, pouring whiskey into a glass. His tie had been pulled loose, a navy suit jacket tossed onto the piano bench. We both favored our father, Jack and I, with gray eyes, hair black as pitch, and, to my sibling’s everlasting embarrassment, dimples deep enough to launch a boat in. He glanced over, caught my eye, and tipped his glass in my direction. A friendly offer. Sixteen years my senior, my brother practiced an unorthodox form of guardianship: tolerant in some ways, overbearing in others. Whiskey was allowed. Young men were not.
   I shook my head, then asked, “What does an ornithologist do?”
   Jack placed the stopper into the decanter. “An ornithologist? Someone who studies birds, I believe.”
   Disappointed, I looked down. Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, ornithologist. No, too boring. This was impossible.
   “Do drink that behind a curtain, Jackson,” Lucy said, looking out the window to where Mrs. Pike could be seen entering her home across the street. Mrs. Pike, the only neighbor we knew who took the Oregon Prohibition laws seriously. “That woman would have us sent to Australia if she could. Cleo as well.”
   “I don’t think they ship criminals to Australia anymore, darlin’.” But Jack obliged, moving out of sight.
   Lucy frowned at me. “Are you sure you’ll be all right while we’re away?” She paused, careful not to look at her husband. “You do know you can always come with us.”
   Jack cleared his throat, not even attempting to mask a pained expression, and I couldn’t help but smile. Tomorrow he and Lucy would be on a train to San Francisco to celebrate their thirteenth wedding anniversary. It was to be an extended vacation, with some business thrown in on Jack’s part. They would be gone for six weeks.
   “No one wants their sister around on an anniversary trip,” I said. “It’s the opposite of romantic.”
   “Thank you, Cleo,” Jack said. Lucy looked ready to argue.
   “I’ll be fine. Truly,” I added, knowing the real reason she worried. “We’re too far west for the influenza. Everyone has said so.”
   I had heard of the Spanish influenza. Who had not? A particularly fierce strain of flu, it had made its way down the eastern seaboard, sending entire families to the hospitals, crippling the military training bases. The newspapers were filled with gruesome tales from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Cities so far away, they could have been part of another country. But that was the extent of it. We were safe here in Oregon. In Portland. The Spanish flu had no interest in the northwestern states.
   “Very well,” Lucy said, defeated. “But here, this is for you.” She handed me her itinerary. I looked it over. It contained their train arrival and departure information, as well as the names of friends located the entire length of the Pacific coast whom I could call on for assistance should I need it. Also, a reminder that they would be returning on November third, a Sunday, and would stop directly at St. Helen’s Hall to bring me home.
   The same old complaint lodged on the tip of my tongue, and I bit down, hard. I didn’t want to spoil their last evening by showing how unhappy I was. They knew already. But inside, I wanted to kick something.
   Many of my schoolmates had homes outside the city, traveling in from towns such as Coos Bay, Eugene, Bend, and Sisters. Others hailed from farther out: Juneau, Coeur d’Alene, Walla Walla, even Honolulu. Some lived in the student dormitories during the week and spent weekends with their families. Others traveled home only during the holidays.
   I was a day student. Jack drove me to school each morning on the way to his office, and I walked home in the afternoon. Or rode the streetcar. But while Jack and Lucy were away, the house was to be closed up. Our housekeeper, Mrs. Foster, given leave. She would also be traveling tomorrow, by steamboat, to visit her son in Hood River.
   I had begged to be allowed to remain at home on my own, not liking one bit the thought of six weeks in the dormitories—away from my comfortable bedroom, away from any hope of privacy. My brother was unsympathetic. He had boarded throughout his own school years. He said it built character. And that I shouldn’t grumble, because no matter how awful a girls’ dormitory might be, a boys’ residence was a thousand times worse.
   I skimmed the rest of Lucy’s notes. I was to telephone the Fairmont San Francisco once a week, each Saturday, to confirm I remained in the land of the living. Good grief, I thought.
   “Good Lord,” Jack said at the same time, peering over my shoulder. “Lucy, she’s seventeen, not seven.”
   Lucy gave him a look, then proceeded to guide me through every part of their schedule. I resisted the urge to close my eyes. The smell of roasting potatoes drifted from the kitchen, and I remembered Mrs. Foster was preparing a salmon for our last supper. Beyond Lucy, the luggage was piled high in the front hall, enough trunks and suitcases and hatboxes to send six people off in style.
   Trying to be discreet, I lifted a corner of the itinerary and peeked  at  my  book.  Maria  Mitchell,  first  American  woman astronomer, director of the observatory at Vassar College. Kate Furbish, botanical artist. Harriet Boyd Hawes, pioneering archaeologist. My head fell back against the cushions, and I sighed, long and tortured.
   “Who has let in the bear?” Lucy exclaimed.
   I straightened. While I’d been woolgathering, Jack had settled beside Lucy, his glass cradled in one hand, his other arm flung across the back of the settee. Two pairs of eyes regarded me with amused exasperation.
   “All this heavy breathing,” Lucy continued. “What is troubling you, Cleo?”
   Well, what harm could come from telling them? They might be able to help.
   “It’s only September,” Lucy said, after I explained my dilemma. “There are nine months left of school.”
   “You can’t be the only one trying to figure things out,” Jack added. “I wouldn’t feel like a chump just yet.”
   “But I do. I do feel like a chump.” I counted my friends on my hand. “Louisa is getting married in July.” I ticked off one finger. “Her fiancé is almost thirty and has already lost most of his hair. But he’s very rich, and her papa thinks he’s very handsome.”
   Jack snorted. Lucy laughed, smoothing the skirt of her sapphire-blue dress. My sister-in-law was small and fair-haired and pretty, with eyes more amber than brown. No one was ever surprised to learn she had been born in Paris. She looked French and carried herself in a way that made me feel like a baby giraffe in comparison. Tall and gangling, with Mrs. Foster constantly having to let out my skirt hems.
   A second finger ticked off. “Fanny is moving to New York to study poetry. She plans to become a bohemian and smoke cigarettes.” Recalling this bit of information, I felt a twinge of envy. New York City. Tea at the Plaza. All those museums. How glamorous it sounded.
   Jack interrupted my thoughts. “What kind of unorthodox institution are those women running?”
   I dropped my hand. “Rebecca already has her early acceptance letter from Barnard. Myra is sending in her application to the University of Washington. Charlotte, Emmaline, and Grace are all going to the University of Oregon.” I set the book and the itinerary on the table, beside a well-thumbed copy of American Architect. “And Margaret will wait for Harris. Then there’s me. I do know I want to attend university. Maybe study art. But I don’t really care to paint portraits. Or landscapes.” I bit my lip, considering. “Maybe I can study French. But what does one do after studying French?”
   “Marry,” Jack said. Lucy smacked his knee lightly, but she smiled.
   I looked into the fire, feeling gloomy. My schoolmates at least had an inkling of a plan. I had nothing. No plan. No dream. No calling. The uncertainty bothered me, like a speck in the eye that refused to budge.
   “I am utterly without ambition,” I said.
   At this, Jack leaned forward, pointing his glass at me. “Now you’re just being melodramatic. Not everyone leaves school knowing their life’s purpose, Cleo. And those who do often change their minds ten times over.” He waved a hand toward the window. “Sometimes you need to go out in the world and live a little first.”
   Lucy reached over, gathered the itinerary, and tapped it against the table until the edges lined up. “Go to university,” she said, sympathetic. “See what interests you. Young ladies today have the
freedom to do what they like.”
   “Except become a bohemian,” Jack said with a warning glance. He tossed back the rest of his drink and stood. “There are enough sapphists in this city as it is.”

Meet the Author

Makiia Lucier has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oregon and a Master's in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she studied literature for children. www.makiialucier.com

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

A Death-Struck Year 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
LiederMadchen More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed my from the first page and has not yet let me go, long after the last. I blame Cleo. Her voice was so real and so very likable. The first few chapters have a lovely, light humor as they introduce Cleo and her family, her life before the Spanish influenza hits Portland. This contrast, from their happiness to the horrors of the pandemic, give the story that much more impact. The writing was perfect; the story builds up, reaching its peak at just the right moment, then quiets for a beautiful ending. The descriptions of the disease are powerful, but without so much detail as to disturb those with tender stomachs. The focus is more on the people, their thoughts and emotions, than it is on a graphic portrayal of the Spanish influenza. I had tears in my eyes more than once. Cleo's character arc was simply lovely to watch; from a teenager looking for her place in the world to a woman of quiet strength. The secondary characters were all well done as well, each with their own stories. My favorites were probably Hannah and Edmund, with Kate, Jack, and Lucy close behind. Looking at A Death-Struck Year from a historical fiction standpoint, I learned some things I didn't know before, which is always a plus, and it interested me enough in the subject that I will go looking for more information, which is even better. I loved this book, even more than I thought I would, and I can foresee recommending it to a great many people in the future. I received a copy of this book through RockStar Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not pit this book down. It was amazing. I recomdend it 11 and up. Some of the desciptions can be quite glory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very intense. It has a very nice plot that keeps you on your toes. I would NOT recommend it for kids under 6th grade. Some parts can be glory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would definitly recommend it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why do i care about the flu in 1918? If you wanted me to read it it would have to be present or even future tense.