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Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

From the Sibert honor-winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City comes a graphic novel of one of the darkest episodes in American history: the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Amanda’s thoughts

Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction books are always an auto-read for me. Usually, I find them incredibly moving and deeply interesting. I’m bummed to say that this one was just kind of meh for me, though a meh Don Brown book is still a pretty good book. For such a dramatic event, the storytelling was kind of dry, and I’m hoping some of the repetition and clunky sentences will be cleaned up by the final copy.

Graphic nonfiction is a great way to present information to readers who may struggle to maintain interest in this material presented in other formats. I will say that the story of the 1918 pandemic is a riveting and horrifying one. I read a fantastic book on it, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin, last winter when my school was in the throes of an influenza outbreak. Everything I learned then about the flu made our 20% absence rate and my two weeks in bed seem like nothing. Readers of Brown’s book will probably find the statistics staggering—1 out of every 3 people on the planet were infected by this 1918 outbreak, 50 million died worldwide. The disease was not yet well understood during this pandemic. Vaccines were developed quickly but proved ineffective. Transmission seemed nonsensical and so rapid that it seemed impossible to contain. There was a shortage of doctors, nurses, gravediggers, and coffins. Entire cities essentially shut down. This may not be Brown’s strongest book, but it is a concise way to present information about an event that seems almost unfathomable. My ARC only had black and white illustrations with a sample of the full-color art, which I imagine will add some liveliness to the unfortunately lackluster presentation of information.

Though a bit of a disappointment, I still think this is worthwhile to have in collections just for the fact that it makes history accessible to readers who may otherwise give it a pass and because it does a worthy job of educating readers’ on this awful pandemic.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544837409
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/03/2019

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