A Plague Year

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Overview

It's 2001 and zombies have taken over Tom's town. Meth zombies. The drug rips through Blackwater, PA, with a ferocity and a velocity that overwhelms everyone.

It starts small, with petty thefts of cleaning supplies and Sudafed from the supermarket where Tom works. But by year's end there will be ruined, hollow people on every street corner. Meth will unmake the lives of friends and teachers and parents. It will fill the prisons, and the ...

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A Plague Year

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Overview

It's 2001 and zombies have taken over Tom's town. Meth zombies. The drug rips through Blackwater, PA, with a ferocity and a velocity that overwhelms everyone.

It starts small, with petty thefts of cleaning supplies and Sudafed from the supermarket where Tom works. But by year's end there will be ruined, hollow people on every street corner. Meth will unmake the lives of friends and teachers and parents. It will fill the prisons, and the morgues.

Tom's always been focused on getting out of his depressing coal mining town, on planning his escape to a college somewhere sunny and far away. But as bits of his childhood erode around him, he finds it's not so easy to let go. With the selfless heroism of the passengers on United Flight 93 that crashed nearby fresh in his mind and in his heart, Tom begins to see some reasons to stay, to see that even lost causes can be worth fighting for. 

Edward Bloor has created a searing portrait of a place and a family and a boy who survive a harrowing plague year, and become stronger than before.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bloor (London Calling) revisits his days teaching high school English to find parallels between Daniel Defoe’s classic about the bubonic plague in 17th-century London and a (real) methamphetamine epidemic in Pennsylvania. In a crackerjack opening, readers meet ninth-grader Tom Coleman outside his father’s grocery store when he prevents the robbery of an ATM. Robberies—especially of cleaning supplies and Sudafed—have escalated as Blackwater, a coal-mining town, succumbs to addiction. At school, Tom and his sister, Lilly, attend drug counseling after she gets caught smoking pot. In these sessions, they reconnect with Arthur, a cousin whose family has already suffered the fallout of drug abuse. Bloor’s villains—a psychiatrist who specializes in rehab, but is a user himself, and a craven football coach—are cartoonish, but characters closer to Tom have more dimension, especially the Food Giant staff: Tom’s father, assistant manager Uno, and Bobby, who has Down syndrome. The plot is message-heavy but goes down easily because Bloor excels at writing vivid scenes. Tom is a thoroughly sympathetic narrator as he grows to realize there is value in “blooming where you are planted.” Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Ann McDuffie
It is 2001, and an epidemic has hit rural Pennsylvania. But this plague is not spread by germs; it is caused by an illegal drug called crystal meth. Tom wants to escape his coal-mining town and go to college, but with his family and community disintegrating before his eyes, that dream seems far away. Petty thefts at the supermarket where he works have led to more brazen robbery attempts. People are losing their jobs and their homes. Terrorists attack, and an airplane crashes practically in his backyard. And then zombies appear. With a twist on Daniel DeFoe's classic about the London plague, A Plague Year offers a whole new take on zombies. Drug-addicted half-dead humans litter the streets and fill the prisons and morgues. But just like the heroes of United Flight 93 that crashed nearby, Tom and his friends see a future worth fighting for. Bloor has created a chilling story with an interesting premise. This cautionary tale of the dangers of substance abuse, however, serves as a drug awareness platform that teens may find heavy handed. Most readers would agree that drugs can lead to addiction, crime, and death, but the message is presented in a sermonizing way that weakens the story. A vivid setting, strong conflict, and well-drawn characters save the story and make it worth reading. Despite the moralizing, tension builds around this highly charged subject when the least likely teens rally to survive and save their town, leaving readers with a sense of hope. Reviewer: Ann McDuffie
Children's Literature - Cara Chancellor
Nothing ever happens in Blackwater, Pennsylvania. Each day, miners delve for coal, students trudge through school and freshman Tom Coleman dreams of moving away. Then the thefts start. Shoppers at the local Food Giant are caught stealing cold medicine and ammonia. From his teachers, Tom learns the name of the ?plague' that is sweeping through Blackwater, a drug known as "meth." Easy to manufacture at home, it spreads like wildfire, turning the residents of Tom's hometown into meth zombies, with rotting teeth, scabbed skin and shuffling steps. Tom no longer dreams of running away; his goal now is just to survive, especially when the plague hits close to home. Bloor's novel is loosely patterned after Daniel Defoe's A Journal of a Plague Year, which chronicles Defoe's year in a town infected with bubonic plague. Like that novel, this story emphasizes how even those who escape infection cannot avoid the scars the plague leaves behind. Bloor also addresses other common types of substance abuse—including marijuana, alcohol and prescription medication—that often are seen as less dangerous, but which can have similarly tragic consequences. In Blackwater, the reasons for turning to meth range from the tragedy of September 11, which is covered from a first-person perspective, to simple boredom, but the result is nearly always the same: death. Reviewer: Cara Chancellor
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Set between September 2001, when Flight 93 crashed outside Somerset, PA, and July 2002, when the Quecreek Mine disaster and rescue took place, this novel follows Tom Coleman, a high school freshman who is watching his impoverished town of Blackwater and its residents fall apart. It has become home to methamphetamine addicts, crime at the supermarket where he works is rising, and the people around him are getting arrested or dying. Realizing that the only folks who will help their community are the members themselves, Tom and other students in the school's drug counseling group decide to take action. Bloor draws comparisons to the movie Night of the Living Dead and Daniel Defoe's A Journal of a Plague Year to show how crystal meth and the cycle of poverty, alcohol, and drug abuse can decimate an area just like zombies or a plague. He does an excellent job of creating this downtrodden locale and the people who live there. While the disastrous effect of drugs is the main plot, Tom's growth from a coward to someone who sticks up for himself and his town is equally compelling.—Erik Carlson, White Plains Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews

Freshman Tom Coleman studies for the PSAT, works for free at the Food Giant his dad runs and plays Nintendo in this rural Pennsylvania town in the fall of 2001, when terrorists and methamphetamine suddenly become big threats.

Bloor (Taken, 2007, etc.) opens with an attempted robbery, allowing Tom to show off his quick thinking.It is the first symptom Tom notices of the coming "plague." Tom will need more than academic smarts and a hearty work ethic as the town collectively succumbs to meth addiction. Key is a group counseling session about drugs and addiction led by a therapist from outside the community. Both this sophisticated therapist and her good-looking daughter hold an exotic, outsider appeal for Tom. Tom's family has struggled with addiction in the past, providing a layer of poignancy. As the town goes from a vague awareness of drugs to being overrun by zombie addicts, Tom and the town are challenged to respond. In other hands, the nearby downing of Flight 93 could overshadow the plague, but Bloor's insight into ordinary people provides a great prism through which to view the events. The language is not particularly elegant (some dialogue is realistically crude), but it carries the big ideas sturdily and with affection for the community and its people.

A likable teen successfully explores a significant social issue without preaching or becoming a symbol. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375956812
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 320
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

EDWARD BLOOR is the author of several acclaimed novels including Taken, winner of the Florida Sunshine State Young Reader Award, London Calling, a Book Sense 76 top ten selection, and Tangerine which was an ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, a Horn Book Fanfare Selection, and a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book.

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Read an Excerpt

Monday, September 10, 2001

I was staring through the window of Dad’s van when I saw the shopping cart, stranded like a lost dog at the corner of Sunbury Street and Lower Falls Road. The green plastic trim and the white Food Giant logo identified it as one of ours. Maybe a customer had wheeled it, illegally, to a house around the corner, unloaded it, and then wheeled it back to that spot in an effort to say, I didn’t really steal this. I was just borrowing it. You can have it back now.

Whatever. It wouldn’t be there for long. Bobby Smalls would pass this way in ten minutes. He would spot the cart and then comment bitterly about the person who had left it there, since he’d have to retrieve it as his first job of the day.

Dad turned right and our van bumped across the dark expanse of blacktop in front of the supermarket. The Food Giant sign was still in its low-wattage setting, glowing like a rectangular night light for the town of Blackwater. Dad is the general manager of this Food Giant, and he spends most of his waking life there. Although it was still an hour before opening and the lot was empty, he backed our Dodge Caravan into an outer space—a requirement for all employees. He asked, “Do you want me to leave it running, Tom?”

“No. I’ll just open a window.”

“Okay. I’ll leave the keys in case you change your mind. I’ll be about fifteen minutes, provided the system is up.”

I yawned, “Okay,” and lowered the electric window before he could turn the key.

Plan A was that Dad would drive me to school, which meant I would get there way early, before anybody, which meant that no one would see me being dropped off by a parent. This was infinitely better than plan B.

In plan B, Mom would drop me off later, in front of everybody, which meant that I might as well be wearing a yellow patrol boy vest and carrying a Pokemon lunch box.

But first we’d had to stop at the Food Giant because the Centralized Reporting System had been down the night before, so Dad hadn’t been able to input all his sales figures, reorders, et cetera, and send them to the corporate office. In theory, he would input those figures now, and we would be gone before the opening shift arrived at 6:45.

I watched him walk across the large, rolling parking lot. The Food Giant was built, like much of Blackwater, on the uneven landscape of Pennsylvania coal country. If a shopping cart got away from you in this lot, it could roll for fifty yards, building up to a speed of twenty miles per hour before it crashed into a parked vehicle. That could do some serious damage, as any cart retriever would tell you.

Dad disabled the alarm, unlocked the automatic doors, and slipped inside. I opened my PSAT prep book, hoping to get in a few minutes of study time.

But that was not to be.

First, I looked up and saw Bobby’s mother drop him off, fifteen minutes early, as usual. He was wearing his green Food Giant slicker in case of rain. (Bobby was always prepared. The Boy Scouts just said it; Bobby lived it.) After listening impatiently to some final words from his mother, he pushed away from the Explorer and started walking back toward Sunbury Street and that abandoned cart. Mrs. Smalls drove on to her job at the Good Samaritan Hospital.

Then, just as I had returned to my book, a louder engine sound disturbed me.

A black tow truck, driving too fast, bounced across the parking lot and took a hard left at the ATM. Its high-mounted headlights flashed right into my eyes. Then the driver killed the lights and backed up to the front of the store.

A man in a hooded sweatshirt and a black ski mask jumped out on the passenger side. He reached into the back of the truck and rolled out a metal hook so large that I could see it clearly from two hundred feet away. He wedged the hook into a slot in the ATM and gave the driver a hand signal. The truck lurched forward, creating a god-awful sound.

I was now sitting bolt upright and staring at them. They were trying to rip the ATM out of the wall and make off with it—steal the whole thing and crack it open later for the cash inside.

Suddenly, to my right, I saw a figure approaching. It was Bobby Smalls. He came running back clumsily in his green rain slicker, without the cart. He started waving his arms and shouting at the robbers.

I thought, Oh no, Bobby. Not now! Keep away from them! I slid over into the driver’s seat and grabbed the steering wheel, trying to think what to do. I started pounding on the horn, making as big a racket as I could.

The driver, dressed in the same type of dark disguise, stepped out of the truck. He was holding a strange object. It took me a few seconds to realize what it was—a compound bow. He then produced a feathered arrow, nocked it, and aimed it right at Bobby’s short, advancing body.

The beeping horn got Dad’s attention. He appeared behind the glass in the entranceway, looking bewildered. He pulled the door open and stepped outside, holding out one hand toward Bobby like a traffic cop trying to get him to halt.

The bowman changed his aim from Bobby to Dad and then back again. Was he going to shoot one of them? Or shoot one, reload, and get the other? Or was he just trying to scare them?

I couldn’t take the chance. I cranked the car key and hit the gas pedal. The old van roared like an angry lion. I yanked at the gearshift, still revving the engine, and dropped it into drive. The van took off with a squeal of spinning tires and rocketed across the parking lot.

The bow-and-arrow guy turned toward me and froze like a deer caught in the headlights. Then he aimed the bow right at me. I thought, Can an arrow pierce the windshield? He must have asked himself that same question and decided it could not. He lowered his weapon, tossed it into the cab, and climbed back into the driver’s seat.

I continued to accelerate toward the truck, closing the gap quickly, like I was going to ram it. (Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do.) By now, the other man had unhooked the cable and had scrambled inside the cab, too.

The truck lurched forward and drove right at me, like in a deadly game of chicken. I hit the brakes and steered to the right, throwing the van into a wild skid, stopping just feet away from the frozen-in-place figure of Bobby Smalls.

The tow truck continued across the parking lot and shot across Route 16, accelerating away into the darkness.

I turned off the van’s engine, threw open the door, and hopped out.

Suddenly everything was quiet.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A dose of reality

    Tom Coleman's dad works very hard as the manager of the Food Mart in town. He always seems to be hustling in and out of the store. One morning his father runs in once again telling Tom he will be right out to take him to school. Tom waits in the van in the parking lot, and decides to use the extra time to study. As he sits there, Bobby Smalls pulls into the parking lot and almost races to the door. Bobby is one of those "perfect workers" who's dedicated, always on time, and makes the Food Mart his life. What Tom Coleman doesn't expect is the truck that pulls in, backs up to the store, and a man exiting the vehicle with a compound bow in his hand. It's almost as if Tom is suddenly stuck in some 'big screen' war movie instead of the normal, everyday life he always lives. But this is no movie; the men in this truck are there to do some serious damage. Without thinking, Tom begins to beep the horn to warn his dad inside the store. Then, he guns the engine of the van and races toward the evil-doers, trying to save both Bobby Smalls and his father from getting killed. Thankfully, he does. But that is nowhere near the end of what is about to take on Tom's town; there is a plague that is about to begin, and that plague has a name - meth. Tom Coleman is a boy who seriously just wants a normal life. Get through school, go off to college, and deal with his sister, Lily, who seems to be headed in a much darker direction than she should be going in. Listening to Lily and his mother fight constantly about the counseling program that Mom says she needs to be in because Lily took a hit off a joint, is just one of the events that seems to be happening daily. But normalcy soon turns into a war - in Tom's own house, as well as outside the walls. The zombies in this novel are quite different from the 'fantastical' creatures that many authors put in their horror or sci-fi stories. These zombies, with their red eyes, rotted teeth, and pasty skin - are creatures who are very real, and some even look like your neighbors and friends. Things are being stolen, odd chemicals are being purchased at the Food Mart, explosions are taking out houses, and people are beating each other to death to get the main ingredient that they have to have in order to survive. There is nothing Tom wants more than to leave his now disgusting town and turn his back on the creatures that are going to eventually tear he and his family apart. But as Tom showed with his first heroic save, he will NOT go quietly. Tom Coleman is prepared to fight this plague until his final day. Exciting is not really the word to use here. Reality is. This author has brought to all YA's (and adults) the very real plague that is happening on all of our streets right this second. Although the characters and plot are certainly right on the money, this is definitely not an entertaining ride or a thrills and chills YA novel - THIS is truth. Quill Says: A good book that is ultimately an educational text that should be used in high schools across the country.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 2, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    I could not put this book down....great read from start to finish!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

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