Agnes at the End of the World

Agnes at the End of the World

by Kelly McWilliams

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Overview

The Handmaid's Tale meets Wilder Girls in this genre-defying novel about a girl who escapes a terrifying cult only to discover that the world Outside has succumbed to a viral apocalypse.
 
 

Agnes loves her home of Red Creek — its quiet, sunny mornings, its dusty roads, and its God. There, she cares tirelessly for her younger siblings and follows the town's strict laws. What she doesn't know is that Red Creek is a cult, controlled by a madman who calls himself a prophet.
 
Then Agnes meets Danny, an Outsider boy, and begins to question what is and isn't a sin. Her younger brother, Ezekiel, will die without the insulin she barters for once a month, even though medicine is considered outlawed. Is she a sinner for saving him? Is her sister, Beth, a sinner for dreaming of the world beyond Red Creek?
 
As the Prophet grows more dangerous, Agnes realizes she must escape with Ezekiel and leave everyone else, including Beth, behind. But it isn't safe Outside, either: A viral pandemic is burning through the population at a terrifying rate. As Agnes ventures forth, a mysterious connection grows between her and the Virus. But in a world where faith, miracles, and cruelty have long been indistinguishable, will Agnes be able to choose between saving her family and saving the world?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 05/18/2020

The Red Creek compound is the only life Agnes, 16, has known. Adhering to the belief that “perfect obedience produces perfect faith,” she and her siblings have been taught by Red Creek’s prophet that women are inferior to men and that outsiders are not to be trusted. Devout though she is, Agnes secretly seeks outside help to save her brother, who has type 1 diabetes, and she experiences doubt when faced with an arranged marriage and her outsider mother’s pleas that she run away. When a viral pandemic encroaches, Agnes uncovers an aural realm long forgotten. In three parts, McWilliams (Doormat) follows faithful Agnes and her doubting 15-year-old sister, Beth. As Agnes learns more about the virus—a disease infecting animals and humans that causes hardened red skin, hostility, and grouping together in grotesque nests—she must come to grips with the tension between science and faith. Strong apocalyptic worldbuilding alternates with dialogue-laden scenes, while minor characters, such as the Burn Squad captain charged with eradicating nests, move the plot forward in absorbing and dynamic ways. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich and Bourret. (June)

School Library Journal

★ 04/01/2020

Gr 9 Up—Agnes is a dutiful follower of the Prophet, as are her family members and all of the residents of Red Creek, a town set in a breathtakingly beautiful and protected setting nestled between a canyon and a forest. Almost immediately, the dark realities behind Red Creek's natural beauty come into high relief. In the Red Creek cult men dominate, women and girls have little choice, and education and freedom are afforded even less respect. While Agnes has never struggled to remain pious, she has a secret. Her beloved little brother Ezekiel has diabetes. In order to keep him alive (sickness "must be corrected by prayer alone"), she's resorted to secret meetings with a nurse from the Outside to obtain insulin. Agnes's story is not a predictable one (teenage girl catches a glimpse of the world beyond her own; her faith begins to unravel; she's torn between her family and freedom). The familiar narrative device is one layer of this genre-defying story. The Prophet uses the threat of an apocalypse to manipulate his followers, but the world may actually be ending because an epidemic is sweeping the Outside. And, yes, he may be a fraud, but if he is, who are the real prophets? Might Agnes be the one to save the world after all? In this near-apocalyptic adventure and spiritual contemplation, McWilliams provides readers with a believable world, deeply drawn relationships, and an inspiring heroine. VERDICT An empowering narrative and trope-busting plotting earns this book a place on almost every shelf.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-03-25
The story of a 16-year-old’s journey to freedom at the end of the world.

Raised in the ranch commune of Red Creek, Agnes has always followed the Prophet’s adage, “perfect obedience produces perfect faith.” With a mother in the depths of depression, Agnes dutifully takes care of her father and younger siblings and the household chores; she is the perfect follower. Her one sin is the lifesaving insulin she receives from Matilda, an Outsider nurse, for her brother Ezekiel, who has Type 1 diabetes. Agnes’ 15-year-old sister Beth is her complete opposite—questioning the cult’s strict laws for women and sneaking around with a boy. Events ramp up as Agnes becomes aware of the Prophet’s lies and a viral pandemic ravages the outside world. As the Prophet forces his followers into an underground bunker, Agnes realizes she must leave with Ezekiel. With the help of Matilda’s son, Danny, who exposes them to life outside, and prayers in which Agnes communes with God, they escape into a dying world. The novel unfolds in chapters alternating between Agnes’ and Beth’s perspectives, blending science fiction with the harsh realities of life in a cult. The ornate, complex text takes readers through Agnes’ and Beth’s journeys of reconciling their faith and desires, imbuing the well-rounded characters with purpose. Residents of Red Creek are white; Danny and Matilda are black.

An excellent read. (map, author’s note) (Dystopian. 13-18)

From the Publisher

Praise for Agnes at the End of the World:

"In a word: beautiful. With Agnes at the End of the World, Kelly McWilliams has crafted an emotional, powerful story, filled with hope and grace and utterly selfless love. Absolutely unforgettable."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Georgia; min-height: 15.0px}p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Georgia}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Jodi Meadows, NYT bestselling author of My Plain Jane and the Fallen Isles Trilogy

"A powerful story, exquisitely told. Agnes is the antidote we need in our own dystopian times. She filled me with hope!"—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Georgia}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Bill Konigsberg, award-winning author of Openly Straight and The Bridge

"Unforgettable and full of hope, Agnes at the End of the World is at times beautiful, at others dark. The love that transcends these pages is a triumph."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Georgia}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the Reign of the Fallen series

"A truly unique gem of a book. Set during the apocalypse and featuring a disturbing virus and terrifying cult, McWilliams's tale is ultimately one of hope. Agnes is a fascinating heroine-determined, selfless, and brave. I was rooting for her from the very first page."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Georgia}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Erin Bowman, Edgar Award-nominated author of Contagion

"Agnes at the End of the World is a carefully woven ode to faith-finding love in the shadow of death and discovering God during the apocalypse. Agnes's journey gripped my heart and kept me turning pages well into the night."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Georgia}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Ryan Graudin, award-winning author of Wolf by Wolf and The Walled City

"In Agnes At The End of The World, McWilliams has created a female protagonist whose strength relies, remarkably, not on brute force but in her deep sense of spirituality. From the lyrical prologue to the satisfying climax, young adults will enjoy the journey that transforms Agnes from an oppressed child into a leader fighting for the survival of her world. In these difficult and divisive times, I find it particularly important to read stories explore a protagonist's inner strength and so I was intrigued by McWilliams's plot."—Padma Venkatraman, author, The Bridge Home, winner of the Walter Award and the Golden Kite Award

"McWilliams delves deeply into the varied and complex relationships between spirituality and idolatry, feminism and patriarchy, love, family, and hope."—Booklist

*"In this near-apocalyptic adventure and spiritual contemplation, McWilliams provides readers with a believable world, deeply drawn relationships, and an inspiring heroine. An empowering narrative and trope-busting plotting earns this book a place on almost every shelf."—School Library Journal, starred review

*The ornate, complex text takes readers through Agnes' and Beth's journeys of reconciling their faith and desires, imbuing her well-rounded characters with purpose.... An excellent read.—Kirkus, starred review

*"Strong apocalyptic worldbuilding alternates with dialogue-laden scenes, while minor characters, such as the Burn Squad captain charged with eradicating nests, move the plot forward in absorbing and dynamic ways."—Publishes Weekly, starred review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316487337
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 71,758
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

Customer Reviews