A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by HMH Kids in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.
A Death-Struck Year is Makiia Lucier’s debut novel and I hate to say it, but here and there, it shows. I didn’t dislike this book–far from it. I thought the plot was interesting, the characters were mostly well-done, and the setting was great. I just wanted a little…more.
Firstly: the characters. Cleo, the heroine, is lovely. She’s brave, thoughtful, and compassionate, and stronger than she’s aware. Hannah and Kate are particular high points, and I also enjoyed Jack and Lucy. Edmund, the romantic lead, had some nice moments, but this is one place where I felt like there was something lacking–I wanted more opportunity to get to know Edmund. I felt like our chance to get to know him was rushed, and I never really knew that much about him.
Which brings me to my second point: there’s some insta-love happening here. Cleo and Edmund seem to fall for each other really quickly, without really any explanation why, and having only bumped into one another about twice. Once the relationship starts, it does have some nice developing scenes, but then it kind of gets abandoned when Lucier decides to finish the book. The whole romantic subplot just needed a little more fleshing out.
The ending of the book, on the whole, was really kind of abrupt. Lucier spends a great deal of time on atmosphere; the book takes place in Portland, Oregon in 1918, and there’s a war on, in addition to the Spanish flu epidemic. The story centers around Cleo’s decision to volunteer with the Red Cross, helping people who fall ill in a city that’s caught off-guard by sweeping illness. Lucier paints an elaborate, colorful picture of the city in that time, and the people who fill it, and it’s the book’s strength. It’s hard not to be swept up, a bit, in the story, despite the niggling plot holes and distractions. When things suddenly, anticlimactically wrap up, then, it’s all sort of odd and empty-feeling, and certainly devoid of all the depth and color Lucier spent so much time on in the previous 250 pages. It’s kind of a let down.
Finally, and this is extremely nit-picky, but: I’ve gotten to be accepting of the choppy, incomplete-sentence writing style so many writers tend to use nowadays as long as the story’s being told from first person point-of-view, and it’s a contemporary novel. It’s conversational, so I get it. In fact, I get it so well, that it’s started creeping into my own blog writing here and there. However, when the book is written from the point-of-view of an educated older teen in the very early 20th century, it just doesn’t work. For as well-researched as everything else in this novel was, Cleo’s incomplete speech patterns were completely anachronistic. That said, these instances were only occasional.
Overall, I did enjoy the story, here. A Death-Struck Year was an entertaining read, despite my gripes, and I think Makiia Lucier is a writer with promise. Historical fiction can be difficult to write, particularly for the YA market, and I think she captured the voice nicely. I’ll be interested to see what Lucier comes up with next.
Completely clean in every way. Interesting historical premise. 3 stars. A Death-Struck Year was released Tuesday and is on shelves now.