Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse Series)
  • Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse Series)
  • Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse Series)

Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse Series)

4.0 39
by Jackie Morse Kessler

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"Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world."

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
     Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom

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"Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world."

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
     Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?
     A wildly original approach to the issue of eating disorders, Hunger is about the struggle to find balance in a world of extremes, and uses fantastic tropes to explore a difficult topic that touches the lives of many teens.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In adult author Kessler's YA debut, first in a planned series, 17-year-old Lisa, who makes a half-hearted suicide attempt and is in denial about her anorexia, learns that she has been appointed to the role of "Famine," one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When Death, unsubtly depicted as Kurt Cobain, gives her the choice between succumbing to him or joining him, Lisa climbs on her black horse and gallops through the night skies, experiencing world hunger in its literal and metaphorical forms. During alternate scenes, she fights with her boyfriend and counts calories with her bulimic friend. Kessler realistically conveys the vicious nature of the girls' eating disorders, providing graphic depictions of their binging, purging, and starvation. However, the paranormal concept often gallops ahead of its supporting framework, muddling rather than addressing the psychological complexity of Lisa's illness. Perceptive readers will recognize that Lisa's most convincing (and painful) moments--her punishing internal monologue as she debates whether to eat a cheese fry and her resentment toward those who try to help her--are solidly anchored in the real world. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

  Praise for Hunger:

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

* "Realistic and compassionate. . . . the writing is never preachy, and it allows an interesting exploration of both intensely personal food issues and global ones."
SLJ, starred review

"Jackie Morse Kessler does a fine job of taking a critical issue that has been explored in writing no small number of times, and putting a new and thought provoking spin on it. . . . Sheer genius."
New York Journal of Books

"Powerful, fast-paced, hilarious, heart-wrenching. . . . This story will grab the reader and never let go."
Romantic Times Magazine

"Hunger is not just a good book. It is a great book. It is funny and sad, brilliant and tragic, and most of all, it speaks truth. . . . I adore it."
—Rachel Caine, author of The Morganville Vampires

"A fantastic and gripping read that never shies from its difficult subject matter. . . . This book is a knockout."
—A.S. King, author of Everybody See the Ants

Praise for Rage:

A Junior Library Guild Selection

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

"Rage is raw and real, a truly dark, honest look at self-harm and the teenage psyche. Kessler left me breathless."
—Heather Brewer, author of the New York Times bestselling series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod

"The elegant mix of dark humor, brilliantly developed characters, and just enough moral threads to lead readers to make their own conclusions is impressive."

"Raw, visceral, pulling no punches, this story strikes home like a razor blade. It’s unforgettable, heart wrenching, and enlightening."
Realms of Fantasy


Praise for Loss:

"Kessler blends fantasy, history, humor, and hard reality into a gripping tale."

"Jackie Morse Kessler has a keen eye for capturing the awkward uncertainty of adolescence, which she wraps quite deliciously in a coating of mystery, fright, and suspense. Loss is a treat for readers, a one-of-a-kind, twisty turny carnival ride. . . . I loved this book."
—Andrew Smith, author of The Marbury Lens

"Whip-smart and elegant."
—Saundra Mitchell, author of The Vespertine

"Gritty and raw with powerful truths. An addictive read."
—Sophie Jordan New York Times bestselling author of Firelight


Praise for Breath:

A Junior Library Guild Selection 

"A riveting read."
—Kirkus Reviews

"The series is a strong and unique attempt to encourage troubled teens to consider their options and accept the help they need, while exposing all readers to the pain their friends may be experiencing."

ALAN Review - Kirstin Slitt
Lisabeth Lewis is Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Having just lost her best friend to terrible accusations, about to lose her boyfriend, struggling to ignore the Thin voice's whispering, and warring with her hunger daily, Lisabeth is startled to hear Death knocking on her door. What follows after her confused, drug-induced acceptance of his golden scales is a tale of great power and even greater courage. Though Lisabeth's control teeters on a precipice, cloaked all in black while atop her horse, she relishes the immensity of her power as Famine. While Death walks Lisabeth through her journey, War and her vicious red steed lurk around every corner, rousing a battle from which neither the troubled teen, nor Famine, can turn away. Jackie Morse Kessler weaves a story of despair, hope, and unbelievable power through a seventeen-year-old's painful journey with anorexia. Reviewer: Kirstin Slitt
Children's Literature - Kristi Bernard
Lisabeth is a teen like many others. She is daddy's little princess, can never please her mother, is depressed and thinks she's fat. Contemplating suicide, she grabs a bottle of her mother's anti-depressants. After popping only 3 she is visited by a delivery man who hands her a set of scales and pronounces her Famine. Obsessed with her weight, her daily routine consists of stripping down to weigh and constantly counting every calorie she ingests. Her best friend calls her anorexic and her boyfriend is angry because she doesn't eat. Lisabeth is upset and at risk for loosing them both. Her mother doesn't understand her and her father aware that something is wrong but walks on eggshells. With the sudden appearance of a mystery horse and a visit by death, Lisabeth is given a choice to either finish what she started with the pills or take on the responsibilities of Famine. With that, she must learn to find balance with her new job and for herself, all the while feeling as though it were all a dream. After viewing life through the eyes of Famine in a third world country and what it means to be truly hungry, Lisabeth discovers its power and that she can help take away the pain and agony of hunger. She begins to feel confident and accepts that she is anorexic and needs help. Admitting to her father all the things she is feeling she welcomes the help of a clinic and arrives home after 49 days. Lisabeth chose to live and returns the scales to death. Kessler does a great job of introducing readers to the character Lisabeth. Readers can relate to and understand the thought process of someone with an eating disorder and how it could be overcome with the help of family and friends. Kessler was not real clear on the role of the four horsemen and how they relate to anorexia. For a young adult reader more clarification would have been nice. Reviewer: Kristi Bernard
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Suicidal, anorexic Lisabeth thinks she is hallucinating when Death (who looks a lot like a certain dead grunge rock star) rings her doorbell, hands her a set of scales, and informs her that she is now one of the four riders of the Apocalypse—Famine, specifically. When ignoring the scales and the giant war horse grazing in the front yard doesn't work, Lisabeth takes up the mantle of Famine and rides out to areas marked by the excess of gluttony and decimated by starvation. It's not long before she learns how to spread hunger and discord, and maybe even how to balance the scales in the areas of the worst suffering. She meets fellow riders—War, who encourages her destructive tendencies, and Pestilence, who councils her to find balance because, "Well, if everyone dies, I'd be out a job, wouldn't I?" At the heart of this slim novel is a teen struggling with serious food issues, and the storytelling is both realistic and compassionate. If the metaphor of an anorexic as Famine is obvious, the writing is never preachy, and it allows an interesting exploration of both intensely personal food issues and global ones. This book has an excellent hook and is short enough to recommend to reluctant readers.—Caroline Tesauro, Radford Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
After a half-hearted suicide attempt, anorexic teen Lisabeth Lewis inherits the responsibilities of Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in this book of revelations and Revelations. Lisa is a typical self-harming protagonist, complete with a cruel internal voice, a mental calorie calculator, a perfect, absent mother and an oblivious, alcoholic and hen-pecked father. In serving as Famine—and exploring alternate and unexpected uses of her new power—Lisa witnesses true hunger and gains some much-needed perspective on her problems. Told through Lisa's scalpel-sharp voice, her transparent thoughts and roiling emotions lend the familiar matter a feverish, impressionistic quality. Like her friends, the other Horsemen never emerge as fully fleshed characters: Pestilence makes a cameo, War rattles her saber and Death (in the guise of a dead grunge star) makes enigmatic statements (though Famine's Horse has an appealing and distinct personality). Adult author Kessler's concept and characters may not be wholly original, as she indicates in her author's note, but her ear for dialogue, fluid prose and dark humor elevate this brief novel above other "issue books." (eating-disorder resources) (Fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Riders of the Apocalypse Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
HL770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine. She had a love affair with food, and she’d never liked horses (never mind the time she asked for a pony when she was eight; that was just a girl thing). If she’d been asked which Horseman of the Apocalypse she would most likely be, she would have probably replied, "War." And if you’d heard her and her boyfriend, James, fighting, you would have agreed. Lisa wasn’t a Famine person, despite the eating disorder.

And yet there she was, Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and no longer thinking about killing herself, holding the Scales of office. Famine, apparently, had scales—an old-fashioned balancing device made of brass or bronze or some other metal. What she was supposed to do with the Scales, she had no idea. Then again, the whole "Thou art the Black Rider; go thee out unto the world" thing hadn’t really sunk in yet.

Alone in her bedroom, Lisa sat on her canopied bed with its overflowing pink and white ruffles, and she stared at the metal balance, wondering what, exactly, she’d promised the pale man in the messenger’s uniform. Or had it been a robe? Frowning, she tried to picture the delivery man who’d just left—but the more she grasped for it, the more slippery his image became until Lisa was left with the impression of a person painted in careless watercolors.

Maybe the Lexapro was messing with her.

Yeah, she thought, putting the Scales on her nightstand, next to a half-empty glass of water (which rested on a coaster) and a pile of white pills (which did not), I’m high as a freaking kite.

And you’re fat, lamented the negative voice, the Thin voice, Lisa’s best friend and worst critic, the one that whispered to her in her sleep and haunted her when she was awake.

High and fat, Lisa amended. But at least I’m not depressed.

Or dead; the delivery man had rung the doorbell before Lisa could swallow more than three of her mother’s antidepressants. Bundled in her white terry cloth bathrobe over her baggy flannel pajamas, Lisa had answered the door and accepted the parcel.

"For thee," the pale man had said. "Thou art Famine."

And once Lisa had opened the oddly shaped package, all thoughts of suicide had drifted away. Thanks to the pills, that was sort of the way she was feeling now, as if she were drifting— drifting slowly like a cloud in the summertime sky, a cloud shaped like a set of old-fashioned scales . . .

The pills.

Pulling her gaze from the Scales, Lisa scooped the pills into her nightstand drawer. She wiped away the stray trails of powder, brushed off her hands, and gently closed the drawer. It wasn’t as if she had to worry whether her mom would notice that her stash of bliss had been depleted; Mrs. Simon Lewis was off at some charity event or another, accepting some award or another. Lisa just didn’t want to leave a mess. Even if she had overdosed, as she had originally planned, she would have died neatly in her own bed. Lisa tried her best to be considerate.

She frowned at the Scales. Dappled in moonlight there on her nightstand, they gleamed enticingly. Lisa couldn’t decide if they looked ominous or merely cheesy.

Cheddar cheese, one ounce, the Thin voice announced. One hundred fourteen point three calories. Nine point four grams of fat. Forty minutes on the exercise bike.

And behind that, the pale man’s words burned in Lisa’s mind: "Thou art Famine."

Uh-huh. Right.

Famine having a set of old-fashioned scales, Lisa decided, was stupid. The only scales that mattered were the digital sort, the ones that also displayed your body mass index.

Lisa yawned. Her head was fuzzy, and everything seemed pleasantly blurred, soft around the edges. It was peaceful. She thought about closing her window shade, but she decided she liked the moonlight shining on the Scales—sort of a celestial spotlight.

You’re loopy, she scolded herself. Hallucinating. Get some sleep, Lisa.

She settled down on her bed, pulling the princess pink covers around her to fend off the chill. Lately, she was always cold—and hungry. Although she enjoyed the feeling of hunger, she hated it when her body shivered. Whenever she forced her body to stop shivering, it made her teeth chatter. And when she forced her teeth to clamp shut, her body shivered. It was a physical conspiracy.

Lisa gripped the blankets tightly and started thinking about the homemade cookies she’d make for Tammy tomorrow. As she imagined the smell of chocolate chips, she calmed down. Baking was soothing. And Tammy was a fiend for Lisa’s baking. James was, too, but he always acted hurt when she wouldn’t taste any of the sweets she made for him.

Snuggled like a baby, Lisa stared at the object on her nightstand. Backlit by the moon, the Scales seemed to wink at her.

"Thou art Famine."

She let out a bemused laugh. Famine. Really. She would have made a much better War.

Smiling, Lisa closed her eyes.


The black horse was in the garden directly beneath Lisa’s window, invisible, waiting for its mistress to climb atop its back and go places she had never imagined—the smoke-filled dance clubs of Lagos, dripping with wealth and hedonism; the opulent world of Monte Carlo, oozing with indulgence; the streets of New Orleans, filled with its dizzying smells and succulent foods. In particular, the horse had a fondness for Nola’s sweet pralines.

Perhaps they would go to Louisiana first—perhaps even tonight.

The black horse snorted and pawed the grass, chiding itself in the way that horses do. So what that it wished to move, to fly, to soar across the world and feast? It was a good steed; it would wait forever, if needed, until its mistress was ready to ride.

It wasn’t the horse’s fault that it was impatient; the rhododendrons in the garden couldn’t mask the cloying odor of rot, which made the horse’s large nostrils flare. Death had come and gone, but its scent had left its impression on the land, in the air.

Death was scary. The horse much preferred the smell of sugar. Or pralines.

The black horse waited, and Lisabeth Lewis, the new incarnation of Famine, dreamed of fields of dust.

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