CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 26. . . . March 9, 2018
What would happen to the world if all the adults disappeared and children and teenagers were left to fend for themselves? Literature tackling this issue often takes the view that those left behind (or alone) would, eventually, become evil (see: the “Gone” series, Lord of the Flies, etc.). In C.K. Kelly Martin’s Stricken, readers get to see a different side of this plot device when a mysterious illness, beginning as the flu and progressing to what looks like sudden onset dementia, strikes first Ireland and then the world. Naomi is spending the summer in Ireland living with her grandparents and dealing with the early stages of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s when a new illness, eventually dubbed Amnestic Delirium Disorder, starts spreading through first Ireland and then the rest of the world. First contracting what appears to be a typical flu, all infected people over the age of 21 quickly develop what can be best described as sudden onset dementia. Much like dementia, it affects different people in different ways: some become angry, some calmly confused, some unresponsive. Naomi, her friends Shehan and Ciara, and Ciara’s younger half brother Adam (as well as Ciara’s dog Ripley), soon band together to stay safe as this strange disease takes a complete hold over the world.
Instead of descending into anarchy and violence, as books with a sudden lack of adults tend to do, in Stricken readers see typical family and teenage disagreements as the teens try their best to stay safe and alive. The plot is also geographically limited (none of them are old enough to drive), allowing the relationships between the characters to be more of the focus than what is happening in the entire world. Readers get snippets of typical teenage emotions, like Naomi’s developing feelings for, and finding these feelings to be reciprocated by, Shehan interspersed with missions to get more supplies from neighbourhood houses and attempts to keep their parents safe without sending them to the hospitals where the affected are being gathered.
The action picks up in the second half of the book when Adam runs away after a fight with Ciara. By this point, all that is left coming through the radio is static, save for a few broadcasts of the conspiracy theory variety blaming ADS on extra terrestrials. By this point, Naomi and Shehan have discovered the body of what could only be assumed to be one such creature; the book’s protagonists have to contend not only with the packs of those infected with ADS roaming the streets, but the unknown threat of these alien creatures as they race to find Adam before it is too late. With the help of a gentle old man, house bound when the outbreak occurred (and, therefore, unaffected by ADS), and after a few run ins with the aliens and adults, Adam is found, and the group is reunited.
Stricken takes readers into a world without adults without showcasing the worst in people. The disagreements between Naomi, Shehan, Ciara, and Adam wouldn’t be out of place on a family vacation or a trip to the beach, even though they are dealing with a major crisis. It is refreshing to have a book take this approach – people don’t have to be terrible for literature to be interesting, but it is often what happens in plots such as this. By keeping the characters calm and the antagonist something other than human, the appeal of this book is broader than teens looking for a dark adventure. Stricken should appeal across gender and genres.
Martin also does an excellent job capturing both the voice and viewpoint of the teenage characters. The voices are authentic, never forced, and carry the story along in a very engaging way. The plot, itself, is tight, with enough mystery to keep the pages turning without feeling like you’re being toyed with – for the most part. The ending of Stricken is frustratingly unsatisfying: readers know next to nothing about the aliens, nothing more about ADS than was known halfway through the book, and the four protagonists are heading back to their home with no real plan of what to do next. I can only assume this ending is setting up for a sequel, but, if not, I will be very disappointed. I prefer my cliff hangers to resolve at least a part of the plot, but I will happily jump back in to the world of Stricken to find out what happens, even if I have to wait for a whole other book to come out.
Susie Wilson is the Data Services Librarian at the University of Northern British Columbia. When she isn’t at work, you’ll find her curled up with a cup of coffee and a good book.