by John Smelcer
Release date : October 2009
The Great Death arrived with the man from downriver, the one who came with the light-colored strangers and had little red spots covering his body. Thirteen-year-old Millie and her younger sister, Maura, are fascinated by the guests, but soon sickness takes over their village. As they watch the people they know and love die, the sisters remain unaffected and begin to realize that they will have to find a new home. Alone in the cold Alaskan winter of 1917, struggling to overcome the obstacles nature throws their way, the girls discover that their true strength lies in their love for each other. John Smelcer’s spare and beautiful prose shapes the sisters’ story with tenderness and skill, presenting a powerful tale of determination, survival, and family. (taken from Macmillan)MY THOUGHTS : A strong and powerful book! This is the kind of book I'm not used to having in my hands, and I have to say that I was hooked, both emotionally and by the story. It is obvious that it was written with passion. I just discovered what inspired John Smelcer to write The Great Death, you can read about it here. I understand even more now that I know how his own life and family history were the base of this story.
The theme is unusual where YA books are concerned (it is marketed as Middle Grade and YA). These two sisters's sad and gripping adventures touched me on many levels. Their relationship is dealt and described with subtility and respect, the dialogues wisely balanced. Their race for survival is catchy and most of all seriously moving. We follow them on a journey full of dangers, obstacles and suffering, which they are able to go through thanks to their love and hope.
I discovered the rituals and lifestyle of the Alaska Natives with great interest, and it was a real life lesson. I've always been fascinated by life in the wild and cold. It was terrible to read how a few men could kill a whole village by propagating an illness that wasn't important for them, but deadly for these people.
I definitely recommend this book to everyone. It's a gripping, passionate and soulful tale. I have to say that I'm a bit sceptical on the age group that the publisher and author consider appropriate. It's rated 10 +. I would go up to 12 +. This novel deals with a difficult subject, and therefore some passages are quite violent, especially the descriptions of the corpses in the village at the beginning. I think it's a great book for young readers but I would recommend parents to read it before passing it on to their young children.