A Death-Struck Year coverTHE LOWDOWN:
The Spanish influenza is devastating the East Coast—but Cleo Berry knows that’s a world away from the safety of her home of Portland, Oregon.  And then the flu moves into the Pacific Northwest.  Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down.  The entire city is thrust into survival mode—and into panic.

Seventeen-year-old Cleo is told to stay put in her quarantined boarding school, but when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can’t ignore the call.  In the grueling days that follow her headstrong decision, she risks everything for near strangers.  Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student.  Strangers who could be gone tomorrow.  And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: When will her own luck run out?

Based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history, Cleo’s story leaves readers asking: What would I do for a neighbor?  At what risk to myself?

In the coming weeks, I would wish that I had done things differently.  Thrown my arms around my brother, perhaps, and said, I love you, Jack.  Words I hadn’t spoken in years.  Or held on a little tighter to Lucy and said, Thank you.  Thank you for watching over me, when my own mother could not.  But the distance between hindsight and foresight is as vast as the Pacific.  And on my family’s last evening in the city, my attention was fixed not on gratitude, certainly, but on myself.
—Paperback ARC edition

In the beginning of her first-person narration, Cleo Berry doesn’t know what she could possibly do with her life.  She feels no passion for anything in particular, except that she’d like to find something meaningful and possibly a little glamorous.  When the Spanish flu breaks out in Portland while her brother and sister-in-law are away on a vacation, Cleo sneaks out of her boarding school to stay in her own home.  But, once there, she realizes just how quickly the panic of the pandemic has spread: everyone is wearing white cotton masks, there is already a death toll and a climbing number of cases, and the grand theater has been turned into a make-shift hospital.

The novel really gains its legs once Cleo volunteers for the Red Cross at the theater.  Cleo is a wonderful role model, and her choices have real consequences.

Her clear romantic interest in Edmund, a young medical student and former military man, never detracts from the main focus of the plot—instead it is a gentle romance that unfurls naturally as a subplot, appropriate for the very real drama of death and disease.

There is a strong sense of dread that permeates the novel, that at any moment any character might drop dead—literally.  Readers who become attached to secondary characters, and there are plenty worth attaching to, will quickly devour the tale, even if only to make sure their favorites survive.

In her debut novel, Guam-native and Idaho-resident Makiia Lucier has raised the bar for her next novel extremely high—and readers will be excited for whichever historical setting she tackles!

Appropriate for ages 12+.  Intense situations, death, disturbing images.

Deals with sickness, fear, dying, selflessness, responsibility.


 If you…

  • Love historical American fiction
  • Are a fan of independent, head-strong heroines
  • Enjoy thought-provoking tales of human courage
  • Have ever wondered what YOU would do in a crisis



YA Historical

Hardcover & Ebook, 288 pages

Published March 4th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers (ISBN 978-0-544-16450-5)



(Review copy provided by Roshan Nozari at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Cover image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.)