Michael Billotti's Reviews > The Eleventh Plague

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
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May 29, 12

Read in May, 2012

Jeff Hirsch's debut novel The Eleventh Plague centers around a fifteen year old boy named Stephen Quinn. Throughout the book, Stephen's name kept recalling the work of a much more famous authorial presence: Stephen King. Of course, this is a wildly unfair comparison. But it gets at the heart of many of the problems in The Eleventh Plague. In 2012, after The Stand and The Road and Children of Men and The Hunger Games, a dystopian future alone isn't enough. Readers know the setups, the twists and turns of the genre. To be satisfied, we need more.

The Hunger Games caught on, in part, because of its deliciously horrifying premise. But its success relied on two key factors: well-written prose and interesting characters. Unfortunately, Hirsch's novel contains only one of these elements. Despite his best efforts, the novel fails to reach the compelling "must-read" heights of some of the best examples of YA dystopian fiction.

At the sentence level, Hirsch is a talented writer. He has many solid descriptions that evoke interesting, if unsettling, images. But when he is explaining backstory, which is a very necessary element of most dystopian literature, the narrative becomes clunky and awkward. This is especially true in the beginning chapters of the book.

To its credit, the novel imagines a much more realistic future, one that does not push into the depths of science-fiction, where so many other books of this genre tend to dwell. There are definitely thrills to be had in The Eleventh Plague. Fans of The Hunger Games or House of the Scorpion will be held over by Hirsch's novel, if not completely satisfied.
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