*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Agnes at the End of the World
Author: Kelly McWilliams
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Agnes loves her home of Red Creek. What she doesn’t know is that Red Creek is a cult, controlled by a madman who calls himself a prophet. Then Agnes meets Danny, an Outsider boy, and begins to question what is and isn’t a sin. As the Prophet grows more dangerous, Agnes realizes she must escape with her brother, Ezekiel, and leave everyone else, including her sister Beth, behind. But it isn’t safe Outside, either: A viral pandemic is burning through the population at a terrifying rate. As Agnes ventures forth, a mysterious connection grows between her and the Virus. But in a world where faith, miracles, and cruelty have long been indistinguishable, will Agnes be able to choose between saving her family and saving the world?
Agnes at the end of the World is a timely young adult novel with a viral pandemic that mirrors the current state of our own world paired with a religious cult with a strongly rooted faith and even more deeply rooted misogynistic policies and beliefs. Agnes is known for her devoutness, but she has always known that there is something about her faith that has set her apart. Women are so strongly restricted that she has stamped out any evidence of difference and has convinced herself of her plainness. The only act of rebellion that she allows herself is to sneak in life-saving medicine for her brother, Ezekiel, whose Type 1 Diabetes is a constant threat to his life in a community that shuns Outsider medicine and intervention. The world outside their community is falling victim to a devastating virus, while miraculous, Red Creek remains relatively unaffected, save for their prophet who has reached new levels of insanity.
There is a lot going on in this book between the inner workings of the cult and the virus that has rocked the external world. I really enjoyed it and thought it was an interesting blend of story lines. For how much is going on, it really could have been a trilogy with much more time spent exploring the twisted nature of the Prophet’s faith, as well as the details behind the devastating virus in the outside world. I read this book so fast though — McWilliams has a gripping storytelling style and she draws you in and hooks you. You never quite know what’s going to happen next. She’s brought together such big plot elements that as a reader, it’s impossible to see where she’s going to go with it next. I loved being on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out where the story would turn next.
McWilliams loops in elements of feminism, religion, faith, and family — each idea more complex than the next. The characters struggle to reconcile what they’ve always been told with the new facts that they’re learning as they acquire new information and begin to branch outside of their community. For many, they just aren’t able to branch away from the indoctrinated beliefs that they’ve been raised to know. It is their reality. But as new information comes to light about the past of the community and the Prophet himself, Agnes and even her sister Beth, begin to reframe the world that they live in. There’s a lot of personal growth and development that happens for these sisters as their worlds begin to shift and change around them. We see them transform above and beyond everything they were told they had to be and begin to think independently and to reach for goals that they could have never dreamed of, all in the name of saving the world.
YA fans, this was certainly a unique story, quite unlike anything I’ve read previously. I think you’ll really enjoy it! it’s something new. 🙂