BOOKS ON PANDEMICS:

1918 Flu

With the outbreak of Covid19, so much of media coverage is quick to point out how little is known. Events are unfolding quickly, and guidance is becoming more and more fine-tuned. I wondered if anything could be learned from the past. In the recent past, I can recall reading only one book set in the time of the 1918 flu pandemic. It is the first one I list below. From what I remember, the author did a good job setting the stage with what was going on during that crisis. My grandmother would have been 12 then and I wish I’d had the foresight to ask her what she remembered of the time. Certainly, no one anticipated how the disease would spread or how devastating its consequences were going to be. Below are some books to spark your interest in another time this nation faced crisis.  

In the Shadow of Blackbirds- Cat Winters

“In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. At her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love–a boy who died in battle–returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?”

Pharmacy Girl: The Great War, Spanish Influenza, and the Truth About Billy Detwiler- Kate Szegda

“Everyone likes Josie, except the spoiled and arrogant Billy Detwiler. He calls her Pharmacy Girl, but it is no compliment. As the hazy days of September 1918 drift into the deadly autumn of Spanish influenza, twelve-year-old Josie Winslow’s everyday problems of school and friends, even the war effort at home, become insignificant as everyone battles the epidemic. Josie’s parents try to isolate her from the flu, but Josie is no slacker. She faces Billy in a class election, raises money for the Liberty Loan, and steps up to help the family when her mother comes down with influenza. Josie catches the flu after helping the people she loves—and hates—to survive.”

This Time of Dying-Reina James

“It is October 1918, and England is gathering its dead. For Henry Speake, of Speake & Son Undertakers, laying to rest the shattered bodies of young men sent home from the front has become a grimly familiar duty. But then a country already reeling from war faces an unexpected shock: an epidemic. The Spanish influenza will kill more people than World War I, and more people than the fourteenth-century bubonic plague. There is no cure, no help from the government, not even a clear sense of what is happening—but more and more people keep getting sick, and strangely enough, it is often the young and healthy ones who die.”

Fever Year- Don Brown (Graphic Novel)

“New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.
 
When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.
 
What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.”

As Bright as Heaven- Susan Meissner

“In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters—Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa—a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without—and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.”

The Last Town on Earth- Thomas Mullen

1918 flu epidemic-
“Deep in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is a small mill town called Commonwealth, conceived as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, the adopted son of the town’s founder, it is a haven in another sense–as the first place in his life he’s had a loving family to call his own.

And yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened from all sides. A world war is raging, and with the fear of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is coming under scrutiny. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across the region in the form of a deadly illness striking down vast swaths of surrounding communities.

When Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion, guards are posted at the single road leading in and out of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tired–and apparently ill–soldier presents himself at the town’s doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues, and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every human value–love, patriotism, community, family, friendship–not to mention the town’s very survival, is imperiled.”

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