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The Great Death

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3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  151 ratings  ·  56 reviews
The visitors from downriver had strange pale skin and blue eyes, but they left a deadly sickness of red spots and fever. Thirteen-year-old Millie and her younger sister Maura were the only survivors. They loaded up a raft to take them away, and so began an epic journey through the harsh snowy landscape. This book tells their story.
Paperback, 167 pages
Published October 18th 2009 by Andersen (first published October 8th 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Kris
Interesting historical fiction. "At the beginning of the twentieth century, full two thirds of all Alaskan Natives perished from a pandemic of measles, smallpox, and influenza." Millie and Maura are two sisters, the only survivors of the Great Death from their village. This is the story of their journey. Good plot, and great setting, but the narrator kept "interrupting" with information that was good to know, but worded in such an outsider-instructional way that it pulled me out of the story:
"B
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Deanna
Historical fiction, plague, family, survival, Native Alaskan culture.

Since I am just getting over the H1N1 flu this book was an interesting read. Boy am I thankful for Advil, vitamins, gas furnace, bountiful pantry, etc.

This book follows 2 sisters as they travel a river to find other people who might be alive. White people brought a plague to their Alaskan village and everyone died except them. During the journey they are attacked by wolves, meet up with a hairy woodsman who drinks too much, fi
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Phoebe
Two Alaskan girls, aged 13 and 10, are the only survivors when their village is hit by a plague brought by white people. What they endure is horrendous, aside from their shock and grief. Tragic, yet a marvelous survival story. I have to add, the writing in this short book is incredible. There are haunting turns of phrase throughout. An historical note at the front of the book indicates that Alaskan natives still refer to the start of the 20th century as the Great Death, when two-thirds of native ...more
Kathleen
For such a small book, this story really packs an emotional punch.

According to Mr. Smelcer, "...nearly 2/3 of all Alaska natives perished from a pandemic of measles, small-pox and influenza" which became his inspiration for this story.

Set in the early 1900's, Millie and Maura's remote Alaskan village is wiped out by an epidemic of small-pox. Millie and Maura are the sole survivors and decide that staying in their village will mean certain death. So they set off to see if they can life in any of
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Nicola
This was a nice, short book about two girls who are the only survivors in their village. A disease has been brought to their village in Alaska by European settlers and it wipes out everybody they know. The girls decide to travel to the next village for help and the book documents their travels. It was interesting and easy to read and the girls were both very strong and likeable. I think it would have been better if the book followed them further than it did instead of just leaving it to our inma ...more
Juneau Public Library

Two young sisters are the only survivors after a mysterious illness kills the rest of their village. Together they set off through a treacherous land in search of other survivors. Is this the latest post-apocalyptic speculative fiction? Unfortunately, no. The Great Death is set in Alaska in early 1900s when a worldwide pandemic killed an estimated sixty to seventy percent of the Alaska Native population. The characters are inspired by the life of the author’s grandmother and great-aunt. Despite
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Molly
The cover of this book makes a point of saying that its target audience is kids in 6th to 9th grades, but I really enjoyed the storytelling in this odyssey about two young girls who are the lone survivors of an epidemic that kills everyone else in their remote Alaska village in 1917. I think of it more as a short story or novella that should appeal to readers of all ages, although some of the elements (death, rape, etc) might be a little much for younger audiences to handle. I borrowed the audio ...more
Megan
Not enough story to hold together, not enough historical or cultural content to hold my interest anyway.
Lisa Nocita
Thirteen year old Millie is responsible for looking after her younger sister Maura. Whenever Maura lingers or gets into mischief, Millie is held responsible. She considers Maura a real pest. But when small pox destroys their entire remote Alaskan village save Millie and Maura, both girls realize they will have to put aside their childish concerns to bear the sadness and brutal winter ahead. Millie is determined to find a settlement downriver. They simply can't stay in their village alone for the ...more
Ape
This is a short tale, so I've read it today. It doesn't make it clear on the cover, but I think this is a kid's book - if it's not then it certainly should be aimed at that age group. As an adult book it is very average.

Set in Alaska at some point in history... it's a bit vague, but European settlers are very much settled and the indiginous population are trading with them. The great death is smallpox (or something similiar) that is spread through the local communities who have no natural resist
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JoAnn B.
Two sisters are the only people in this native Alskan village who do not die from a sickness brought by the first white men to ever visit. With winter coming on, they realize that they cannot stay there by themselves and so travel by canoe and on foot to reach a town that they have only heard about. This is a good survival story and could be paired with Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor. The native Alaskan way of life around 1900 is well portrayed both in the opening chapters describing the village a ...more
Judy Desetti
Jun 21, 2011 Judy Desetti rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Judy by: WAW
Historical Fiction. An extremely fast read. Only 166

Great Death was the near decimation of the Alaskan natives at the turn of the 20th century due to contact with white people. According to the author nearly 2/3 of the Alaskan Natives were killed by measles, flu, and small pox.

Two sisters are the only survivors left in their remote village. They travel down the river to find other survivors. Short on details and not much action. Not sure students will be able to grasp the full impact of the int
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Eddie
This story takes place in a remote village in Alaska in 1917. Two white men and their guide visit the village to photograph the people and the guide is covered with red spots from head to toe. After they leave, everyone in the village falls ill and dies except for two sisters, Maura and Millie, ages 13 and 10. The sisters must travel down river in the winter to find others who survived the epidemic. Along the way they encounter some life threatening obstacles, which they overcome with courage an ...more
Koster, L.
This is a small (166 page) story with a big impact. The description of the bucolic life of the two sisters (13 and 8 years old) in their native village in Alaska is charming, but this life-style is soon to come to a violent end. It is the Winter of 1917 and the two of them will be the only survivors of their village after smallpox is introduced by the Europeans who have visited. The plague is decimating the Native population across the land, and the two girls must set out all alone to find out i ...more
Karen
This story of two native Alaskan sisters who watch their entire village die from a smallpox epidemic spread by Europeans in the early 1900's is based on fact. The girls travel by canoe and by foot for many miles through the dead of winter in an effort to find another village where people are alive. Along the way they must deal with numerous obstacles and dangers, some quite gruesome. The book felt very plot-driven to me; I didn't feel that I got to know the characters well enough. The writing st ...more
Susan
This book fairly accurately depicted how devastating disease was brought by the white man to Alaskan native villages. The disease would wipe out entire villages, and due to their remoteness it wouldn't be known for a long period of time. In this novel, two young sisters survived from their village and using their native training, started a long trip to other villages or civilization. It depicted the hardship the met with snow, raging rivers, a perverted trapper, wild animals, and more. While the ...more
Catherine  Mustread
Aug 20, 2010 Catherine Mustread rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Catherine by: Peoria Library
Plague ravishes a small Alaska Ahtna village in the early 1900s and only two girls survive -- they head downstream on a survival road-trip, hoping to find other people still alive somewhere. I liked that this is based on a true story and how the interdependence of the girls saves and motivates them. Also appreciated that the macabre nature of the devastating horrors faced are muted rather than graphically depicted. The inclusion of fragments of Raven tales at the beginning of each chapter tied i ...more
Robyn
Two Alaskan Native American sisters are thrown into the wild after their village is devastated by a plague of (I'm assuming) measles. I felt the story was too short and underdeveloped to warrant any emotional investment. I did like the side story that began each chapter. It is an Alaskan folk tale about Raven and the mischief he causes. This was supposed to correlate to girls' story, but it felt forced. I'm curious if "The Trap", also by John Smelcer, is better since it was best book for young a ...more
Heather
Prepare yourself for a sad book if you are going to read/listen to this one! But it was incredibly interesting to me because of its historical context. What tragedy the Native Alaskans went through! Besides the history lesson, I also liked the book because of the characters of the sisters. They really learn to rely upon each other and grow so strong! The main disappointment for me was the ending. After all that I had been through with these sisters, I wanted to see how the next stage of their li ...more
Karen
Fascinating topic -- the smallpox epidemic that hit Alaska Native villages -- and the story of two young sisters who are the only survivors from their village. They travel down river to find other people and safety. The girls see lots of death and face many challenges on their journey, growing in confidence and skills along the way. The author did a good job of translating the horrific experience of these children into a story that other young readers can understand and also learn some history i ...more
Mindy
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a short & easy read, but well written and very interesting. It's about two young Eskimo sisters living in Alaska, about 20 years after the Klondike gold rush. During this time, there was a huge outbreak of smallpox/influenza (introduced by the "White Men") among the native Eskimos that, according to the author, killed about 2/3 of the total population. This book personalizes that tragedy through the survival story of the two young sisters.
KJ, Madame Librarian
Book one for my YA research project: Beyond Little House.

This is a very spare narrative about Millie and Maura, two sisters who are the lone survivors of measles (I believe) in their Alaskan village. It's a moving survival story, but to me it lacked the compelling nature of books like The Hatchet. Maybe the writing was a little too spare for me? In the end, I felt like I neither had a sense of each girl's personality or of the nature of the world around them.
Andy
Finished this book in record time, only took me a few hours to get through the whole thing. I really enjoyed this story, it held a lot of historical value and portrayed the hardships of Millie and Maura very well. The whole story was very riveting, it seemed that just when things couldnt get any worse, they did. But the perserverence of the sisters was truly admirable and the ending was simple yet satisfying. I would definitely recomend this to my friends.
Elzbeth
Very depressing book. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE(except the main characters) dies. The new born babies die, the parents die, random strangers die, the dogs die: everyone! the book is written in kind of an odd way. Almost like the author is trying to write a survival manual("she didn't know why the gun wasn't working. If she'd gone hunting with her father, she would have learned to clean off the grease to unjam the gun)Not bad altogether though.
Ramarie
a survival story of two Native American sisters, who travel downriver after their entire village falls victim to the "great death" (smallpox). I felt like the characterization of the two girls was a little weak and that it stretched the imagination to believe that the sisters would survive some of the events along the way...but I was rooting for them all the same. I enjoyed this author's other YA novel, The Trap, much more.
Kim Patton
Definitely not for the faint of heart, but a really good read for those that can handle graphic descriptions of an Alaskan village dying from a disease brought in by outsiders. Two girls, Maura & Millie, are the lone survivors from the remote village and must find there way in the Alaskan winter to see if others have survived the disease that had devastated the region. Adventure book readers will enjoy this one.
Ann
Ages 10+ (an attempted rape, but the attack is not explicit)

A simple yet effective story of two Alaskan sisters who survive a smallpox epidemic that kills every other person in their native village. Desperate to find other survivors, the girls travel downriver as winter takes hold. Good for reluctant or hi/lo readers.
Barb
I love historical fiction -- I learn so much that I missed in history classes! This was another great one -- about smallpox hitting the Inuits in Alaska in the early 1900's. The two young sisters are on their own when everyone else in their village perishes.
Amy
Very descriptive adventure story with female protagonists but I felt the author needed to give me more at the end. They just find the village after wandering for days but I wanted to know what happened next! Had potential to be a longer book with more depth.
Janet
Historical Fiction- Story of 2 Alaskan girls that are the only survivors in their village after a "white man" brings a disease that they have no natural immunity. The Great Death is the story of their search for a new home during an Alaskan winter. (1900's)
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John E. Smelcer is the poetry editor of Rosebud magazine and the author of more than forty books. He is an Alaskan Native of the Ahtna tribe, and is now the last tribal member who reads and writes in Ahtna.

His forthcoming novel, LONE WOLVES is being partially funded via an Indiegogo campaign. Check out this video and the unusual gifts offered. Among them, you can choose an autographed, numbered, l
...more
More about John E. Smelcer...
The Trap Edge of Nowhere Lone Wolves The Raven and the Totem A Cycle of Myths: Indian Myths from Southeast Alaska

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