Friday, October 9, 2020

Agnes at the End of the World

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Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams. Grades 7 and up. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 432 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Agnes has grown up fully believing in the philosophies of her home, Red Creek, a secluded community with strict religious beliefs. As the oldest, she's the good daughter, the one who follows the rules, the one destined for heaven. But when her little brother gets seriously ill, Agnes must turn to the Outsiders for help. And she must keep it a secret. She would be punished if the Prophet knew she was sneaking in insulin to save her little brother's life. But the alternative of letting him die is not something Agnes can live with, even if the Prophet would say it's God's will. 

When a global pandemic strikes (!!) and life at Red Creek becomes even more dire, Agnes must risk everything to save the ones she loves. And in the process, she discovers things about herself she would have never guessed. This is a riveting cult story with a super strong heroine that has a lot to say about religion and community. Yes, it's a pandemic story, which is too disturbing for some to read right now (I get it), but the pandemic in the book is a lot different than COVID and reminded me more of a zombie apocalypse than a viral pandemic. 

What I loved and what made this book impossible to put down for me was the strong heroine we get in Agnes. She is by no means a protagonist who has everything figured out. She doubts herself every step of the way, but she will do what she needs to do to protect the people she loves and to make the world a better place. Agnes is far from a victim (although horrible stuff happens to her). She was born into a world where she has no power, she's thrust into an outside world collapsing into chaos, but she never, ever gives up. 

I would hand this to fans of teen cult stories (I picked it up because I am such a fan) or philosophical speculative fiction like Neal Schusterman's Scythe or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.