Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielson

the-scourgeBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Scholastic Press, 2016
  • Edition: First
  • Description:  353 pages ; 22 cm
  • Interest Level:  YA (Transitional 6th grade and up)
  • Summary:  As a lethal plague sweeps through the land, Ani Mells is shocked when she is unexpectedly captured by the governor’s wardens and forced to submit to a test for the deadly Scourge. She is even more surprised when the test results come back positive, and she is sent to Attic Island, a former prison turned refuge — and quarantine colony — for the ill. The Scourge’s victims, Ani now among them, can only expect to live out short, painful lives there. However, Ani quickly discovers that she doesn’t know the whole truth about the Scourge or the Colony. She’s been caught in a devious plot, and, with the help of her best friend, Weevil, Ani means to uncover just what is actually going on.  But will she and Weevil survive long enough to do so?  Retrieved from
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-68245-9
  • Subjects:
    • Plagues – Fiction
    • Social Unrest – Fiction
    • Political Corruption – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: Look, I’m not sick and I don’t have the Scourge!  How can you make me go to that terrible island full of people who are sick?

Plot Summary: Ani, one of the River People, is considered by all who know her as a source of trouble and disaster.  While climbing a tree to get a tasty snack, Ani manages to attract the attention of two of the Governor’s wardens apparently in the area looking for a few River People to test for a fearful disease called the Scourge.  She and her friend Weevil then find themselves accused of having the disease and subsequently exiled to a terrible island called the Attic, where a prison is being used to house the infected.  Once she is there, Ani starts to discover that things are not as they seem.  People seem to disappear but it’s not the people who are really sick.  In the few short days Ani is imprisoned on the island she makes everyone in charge wish they’d never see her or brought her there.  She is a force to be reckoned with who catches the scent of evil in the air and doesn’t stop until she exposes the truth about the Scourge.  The only question that will remain is whether the real scourge is Ani herself and who will SHE infect with the truth.

Critical Evaluation:  I hesitate to call this a fantasy as there are no magical creatures or fantastic scenes but since it takes place in an alternate world that is how it is seen.  But, regardless of the world it is set in, Jennifer Nielsen has created a truly wonderful character in Ani.  The story might lag a little in places and could be better thought out but the way she has written this young girl is unique in any of the books I’ve read recently.  She is clever, fearless, funny, compassionate and utterly relentless in pursuit of whatever goal she has.  Regardless of the situation she finds herself in she always comes out on top because she never even considers the possibility that she won’t win.

Overall, the characters are not as well developed as Ani is and are pretty one dimensional.  The story has some questionable moments in backstory elements such as the one surrounding the parents of the three main characters, Ani, Weevil and Della. The coming together of Ani and Della’s fathers in the hopes of saving their daughters is just a little too contrived, especially considering the short amount of time involved.  And, the discovery of Weevil missing father strains credulity to say the least.  It’s little things like that are problems which are generally the result of trying to force a particular happy ending situation that might be more difficult to achieve if events proceeded in a more realistic manner.  Generally, though this is a nice book with an awesome heroine that many readers will enjoy.

Author’s Brief Bio:  New York Times Bestselling author, Jennifer Nielsen, was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; the MARK OF THE THIEF series, and the forthcoming A NIGHT DIVIDED. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains. Retrieved from

Genre Designation: Fantasy / Alternative History

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Biology / diseases and cures
  • Political Science & Governance
  • Sociology / Anthropology (Social Stratification and alienation)

Book Talk Ideas:  What would you do if your best friend caught a terrible disease that might be contagious?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected.  I like the idea behind the story which deals with fear of disease as a means of controlling political dissent.  While the book is on the youngish side, many YA readers will enjoy and benefit from it.


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