Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams (9780316487337)
Agnes has only ever lived in Red Creek with her younger siblings, attending the Prophet’s sermons, and following his rules. Her mother has withdrawn into her room, not even attending church any more. Only Agnes’ sister Beth can get her mother to even eat any more. Agnes is the devoted sister, working to keep her siblings safe and never breaking the rules. No one knows that she has been sneaking insulin into Red Creek for her youngest brother, Ezekiel, to keep him alive. Beth spends much of her time dreaming of escaping Red Creek and kissing a boy. But soon the world around them changes with a virus that brings the end of civilization. The Prophet uses the virus to his advantage, facing the reckoning and putting everyone in Red Creek at risk. Agnes must figure out how to flee Red Creek to keep Ezekiel safe while Beth finds herself trapped in the nightmare that the Prophet has created. The two sisters each face the end of the world, one with the faith, power and abilities to create a new future for everyone.
McWilliams has written the perfect pandemic read, a book that takes all of our fears of our current pandemic and multiplies them into true horror as the virus hits animals and people alike. The world of Red Creek is haunting and shocking, the cult exactly the right place to find Agnes and Beth as society crumbles. McWilliams uses the cult’s brutality, patriarchy and abuse to create a crucible for these two young women as they find their way forward.
Beth and Agnes are marvelous characters, quite different and yet both wrestling with their fundamentalist upbringing and struggling to leave it behind in ashes. Yet their duty to family and the world itself is what keeps them focused and drives their choices in the apocalyptic world they find themselves in.
A dark and harrowing mix of cults, pandemics and faith-based magic. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.