Last year, I was riveted by the audio book A Night Divided, a historical novel about the Berlin Wall, by Jennifer Nielsen, so I was excited to read more by this very popular middle-grade author. I recently listened to her newest novel, The Scourge, a dystopian story set in a fantasy world with a brave heroine.
Ani lives with her family with the River People, who are disparaged by townspeople (they call the River People grubs). She enjoys hanging around with her best friend, Weevil, but times are tough and food is scarce, so she also works hard to help her family. A plague has been devastating her country, but so far, there have not been any cases among the River People. So, Ani is shocked when she is grabbed by the governor’s wardens one day and taken into town for testing for the Scourge. When Weevil tries to save Ani, he is also captured, and the two friends are taken away in a wagon.
Ani is held in a prison cell with a town girl named Della, who treats Ani with disdain. Both are tested for the Scourge and have positive results, so they are taken to Attic Island, a former prison that now serves as a quarantine colony. They are given very small amounts of medicine that won’t be replaced when they are gone and are assigned jobs in the colony, where Weevil now resides as well. Conditions for the patients/prisoners are terrible, and Ani is outraged. She begins to look around, hoping to find ways to make life in the colony a bit better. What she finds, though, is growing evidence of secrets, lies, and conspiracy.
This imaginative dystopian story set in a fantasy world has plenty of action, adventure, and suspense. The underlying plot is clever and original, but I had some trouble getting invested in the story. Perhaps part of my problem was that I’m not a big fan of fantasy to begin with, though I do normally enjoy dystopian novels. I also struggled with the audio book. The narrator was a young girl speaking in first-person as Ani, and with all of the danger and suspense inherent in the story, I found her voice somewhat breathy and in a constant state of anguish that wore on me after a while. Personally, I enjoyed A Night Divided much more, and I was more engaged with the characters and the story. That might be the difference between historical fiction and real-life events versus fantasy. This action-packed novel will appeal most to young readers looking for an exciting fantasy adventure starring a strong female character.
368 pages, Scholastic
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