In an America devastated by war and plague, the only way to survive is to keep moving.
In the aftermath of a war, America’s landscape has been ravaged and two-thirds of the population left dead from a vicious strain of influenza. Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family were among the few that survived and became salvagers, roaming the country in search of material to trade. But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true. Then Stephen meets strong, defiant, mischievous Jenny, who refuses to accept things as they are. And when they play a prank that goes horribly wrong, chaos erupts, and they find themselves in the midst of a battle that will change Settler’s Landing--and their lives--forever.
Although it relies on some increasingly common dystopian tropes, Hirsch's debut novel is an impressive story with strong characters. A generation after China released a weaponized plague on the U.S., the nation is in ruins, and 15-year-old Stephen wanders the country as a scavenger. Shortly after Stephen's grandfather dies, his father has an accident crossing a river and is incapacitated. Stephen finds himself at the small village of Settler's Landing, where a group of survivors have created an isolated haven of sorts, a far cry from the life Stephen is used to. While there, he meets Jenny, a girl of Chinese descent who is ostracized because of her race. Even as Stephen worries about his father's fate (and his own), he begins to fall for Jenny, and they are both drawn into the horrors of their world, sometimes through their own miscalculated actions. Hirsch delivers a tight, well-crafted story, and although the world-building is light on detail regarding the global cataclysm and its aftermath, most readers will be able to accept the hand-waving and enjoy the action and danger. Ages 12 up.