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True Confessions of a Reluctant Historical Fiction Reader That is Obsessed with Epidemics: Top 10 Books about Epidemics

“Bring out your dead.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

When I was in the 8th grade, my history teacher was oh so kind as to send a note home to my parents letting them know I was failing history.  As you can imagine, that did not go over well.  And thus began my hate affair with history.  I have a hard time remembering facts, I am more of a concept girl.  Ask me to write an essay and I can knock your socks off, but ask me to remember a date and we suddenly have an issue.  You know those people that can walk around quoting facts and reciting lines from their favorite movies and TV shows? Yeah, that’s not me.  And because I always struggled with history, that might explain why I struggle with historical fiction.  I am not it’s number one fan.  But I read it.  Occasionally.  I mean, you know, once in a blue moon.

But, I am a huge fan of epidemics.  I wouldn’t want to live in one, but like zombie fiction, they make us question who we are and what we will do to survive.  In fact, of all the historical fiction books that I have ever read, hands down my favorite is Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Here we have a female character, 14-year-old Mattie Cook, fighting to survive an outbreak of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia.  Fever is a great read because it gives you those little historical facts, but with plenty of action and adventure and a fairly kick butt heroine, especially for the time period.  Plus, people die from the fever.  Yes, it is sad and no, I have no idea what my fascination with epidemics is (don’t judge).  I can tell you that The Mr. is sick of watching the movie Contagion, so the other night I mixed it up a bit and kicked it old school and watched Outbreak (based on the book by Robin Cook of course).

“I’m not dead yet.”
“Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.”
“I’m getting better.”
“No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

So, now you know, Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is my favorite Historical Fiction book for teens.  And, here are some other great books that deal with epidemics, only a few of which are historical fiction as many of them are science fiction – it turns out that plagues are a great way to make both vampires and zombies (you know I LOVE the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry) and bring about the end of the world.  And one of them is even nonfiction.

“He’s only mostly dead.” – The Princess Bride

Deadly by Julie Chibbaro
Deadly is a look at the typhoid outbreak in New York and the lady known to many as “Typhoid Mary”.  Not only a look at science, but an interesting look at the expectations of women in a different time and a young girl named Prudence who wants to be a scientist in a time when women were encouraged to pursue different types of things.
Plague by Jean Ure
Three teens return from a camping trip in the wilderness to find that London has been ravaged by a plague,  Haunting, isolating and chilling, this is one of the earlier plague books.  There is always a sequel called After the Plague.
Code Orange by Caroline B.Cooney
When Mitty Blake is doing a bio project he finds an envelope that contains two scabs.  Suddenly, his project has become a matter of life and death.
The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
Set on an island where the only way in and out is by boat, The Way We Fall is a chilling tale of what happens when an outbreak of illness hits that island and it is abandoned and quarantined by the outside world.  This is the first book in a trilogy and a tense, slowly building creeper.  You’ll wash your hands a lot and look twice at every person you hear cough.
The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
Two thirds of the population is gone, struck down by an outbreak of influenza.  Stephen makes his way to a group of survivors at Settler’s Landing, but a prank gone bad causes a battle that will once again change everything he knows.  This book will make you afraid of flu season.
Quarantine is a high octane story full of violence that will remind you of The Lord of the Flies, but it is set in a high school where all the teens are trapped because they have come in contact with a disease that they carry but kills all the adults.  You can read our review from earlier.  You and your teens will waiting for book two.  It should also be noted that the movie rights to Quarantine have already been sold.
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
In the future, humans are kept by the vampires as cattle.  Allie does all that she can to try and survive and avoid becoming one of “them”.  Can she help find a cure for the disease that turned humans into the rabids, who kill human and vampires alike?  Put this in the hands of your teen vampire fiction readers, it has some interesting twists.
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Peeps is hands down one of my favorite vampire books because it is a very interesting concept.  Vampirism is created by a biological agent, a parasite, and every chapter of the fiction book is accompanied by a chapter that discusses interesting facts about parasites and biology.
Epitaph Road by David Patneaude
In the year 2097, 97 percent of the male population has been wiped out by a plague.  This is a new world in which women rule and men are dominated, an interesting role reversal from some of the historical time periods mentioned above and some fodder for good discussion.
The End is a fun, quick read that looks at the depiction of the end of the world in a variety of different books, TV shows and movies.  It is one of many great Zest Books titles that will fly off your shelves.  These books are quick reads, great for pop culture junkies and reluctant readers.  It is subtitled 50 Apocalyptic Visions from Pop Culture That You Should Know About . . . before it’s too late. 
Be sure to check out my Top 10 Apocalypse Survival Tips I Learned from YA Lit to help prepare yourself for the outbreak, if that should be what bring about the apocalypse.  Also, share your favorite survival tips or epidemic reads in the comments.  I’m always looking for more.
Do you think “the cheese touch” counts as a plague?  Maybe it does for your MG Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.

Epidemics, Take II


  1. Great list! I think I am going to have to do a display…

  2. Don't forget the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry. I have talke about it a lot so left it off this list, bit zombiism is caused by a plague in it. Hope your readers love the display!

  3. Ohh, some of these sound so intriguing and creepy! The only one I have read and finished is Peeps – I loved it, it was such a different take on vampirisim and was just very well done.

  4. awesome aweseome awesome!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Ahhhh – how could I forget THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH by Bethany Griffin? So good and mentioned on the yalsa-bk listserv

  6. So… I shouldn't read these if I'm sick?

    Also, I love Peeps.

  7. Sooooo excited to be included in your roundup! Thanks a million!

  8. Yay for another Peeps lover

  9. We all use your stuff, it's only fair to share back.

  10. Yay, another Peeps lover!

  11. I really enjoyed the book, so thank you.

  12. Jill Kozol says:

    How could you miss Year of wonders: A novel of the plague by Geraldine Brooks? It's one of the best books I have ever read. Beautifully done.

  13. I have never heard of it but now I want to read it do thank you!

  14. I have never heard of it but now I want to read it do thank you!

  15. Thanks for being SOMEONE ELSE who shares my interest in epidemics!

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