The Eleventh Plague
by Jeff Hirsch
Scholastic Press, 2011
The Eleventh Plague is a young adult novel set in a postapocalyptic future. This is Jeff Hirsch's first novel, and it appears to be written for the specific purpose of cashing in on the dystopian future fad that has dominated YA SF for the last few years. However, it does a fair job of taking a hackneyed idea and using it as a framework for an engaging story.
Twenty years ago, America lost the war with China. Well, perhaps not 'lost', as America made good use of its nuclear weapons, and the Eastern US, at least, is free from foreign invaders. But American clearly didn't win... The biological weapons used by the Chinese decimated the population, and most of America is populated by nomadic gangs of scavengers and slavers. Stephen Quinn, born just five years after the collapse, is one of the former, although his 'gang' is shrinking quickly. His mother died a few years ago, his grandfather has just passed away, and now it looks like his father is about to die as well.
This is a fast-moving adventure, to say the least, and within 24 hours of burying his grandfather Stephan's luck has gone from good to bad and back again about twenty times -- the overall trend, however, clearly being for the worse. The one bright spot is that he has found a group of people who are attempting to rebuild a small town, and who are apparently genuinely nice. Of course, this just means that when the slavers, looters, and scavengers come, they can clearly see where to loot and pillage... And Stephen has plenty enough worries of his own without getting involved with a bunch of idealists.
Jeff Hirsch clearly subscribes to the 'enough is never enough' school of adventure. This is a fairly well written book, but even for a post-apocalyptic adventure story, there's a ridiculous amount of stuff going on. He seems to believe that if something game-changing, and preferably tragic, doesn't happen at least once a chapter then he has failed. This quickly becomes a bit overwhelming, and at times a bit too predictable. On the plus side, unlike many of the current dystopian books for boys, he doesn't slip into over-the-top weirdness (The Maze Runner and Tunnels are prime examples of this). This future is quite believable, and doesn't involve any magical "science" fiction elements. In fact, for the most part this qualifies as science fiction only because it is set in the future, which is a nice break from the current trend in YA science fiction.
Overall, if you like the idea of struggling to survive in a post-war America and like some drama in your YA fiction, this is a pretty good read. But I wouldn't generally recommend it as a particularly good story in general -- The Hunger Games or Uglies are better reads if you want to explore YA science fiction.