Agnes at the End of the World

Little, Brown. Jun. 2020. 432p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316487337.
Gr 9 Up–Agnes is a dutiful follower of the Prophet, as are her family members and all of the residents of Red Creek, a town set in a breathtakingly beautiful and protected setting nestled between a canyon and a forest. Almost immediately, the dark realities behind Red Creek’s natural beauty come into high relief. In the Red Creek cult men dominate, women and girls have little choice, and education and freedom are afforded even less respect. While Agnes has never struggled to remain pious, she has a secret. Her beloved little brother Ezekiel has diabetes. In order to keep him alive (sickness “must be corrected by prayer alone”), she’s resorted to secret meetings with a nurse from the Outside to obtain insulin. Agnes’s story is not a predictable one (teenage girl catches a glimpse of the world beyond her own; her faith begins to unravel; she’s torn between her family and freedom). The familiar narrative device is one layer of this genre-defying story. The Prophet uses the threat of an apocalypse to manipulate his followers, but the world may actually be ending because an epidemic is sweeping the Outside. And, yes, he may be a fraud, but if he is, who are the real prophets? Might Agnes be the one to save the world after all? In this near-apocalyptic adventure and spiritual contemplation, McWilliams provides readers with a believable world, deeply drawn relationships, and an inspiring heroine.
VERDICT An empowering narrative and trope-busting plotting earns this book a place on almost every shelf.

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