Title: Agnes at the End of the World
Author: Kelly McWilliams
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 9, 2020
The Handmaid’s Tale meets Wilder Girls in this unique, voice-driven novel from Kelly McWilliams.
Agnes loves her home of Red Creek–its quiet, sunny mornings, its dusty roads, and its God. There, she cares tirelessly for her younger siblings and follows the town’s strict laws. 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. Her younger brother, Ezekiel, will die without the insulin she barters for once a month, even though medicine is considered outlawed. Is she a sinner for saving him? Is her sister, Beth, a sinner for dreaming of the world beyond Red Creek?
As the Prophet grows more dangerous, Agnes realizes she must escape with Ezekiel and leave everyone else, including 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 lives in a cult called Red Creek. She was born there, to a mother who came from outside the cult and a father who is descended from the founder of the cult. Agnes also has a secret: she meets with a nurse from the Outside to get insulin for her brother who has type 1 diabetes. The prophet of their town says that getting outside help is a sin, because he can provide everything they need, but Agnes knows that her brother will die if he doesn’t get his medication. One day, Agnes meets with the nurse’s son and learns of a mysterious virus that is attacking people and animals on the Outside. She begins to question whether the leaders of her town have the right answers or if they’ve been lying to them about the dangers that are on the Outside.
I was drawn to this story because of the cult theme, but I found it so relevant because of the viral pandemic. This book would have been written before the COVID-19 pandemic, though it was published this summer. It was eerily similar to the current pandemic. Some symptoms were similar, like starting with a high fever, while others were different, such as people forming a red shell over their skin. This was a creepy read for right now.
There were some heartbreaking parts of this story as well. Agnes’s brother suffered with his diabetes before he started receiving treatment. The men in the cult had multiple wives, including child brides. There was also child abuse. These things were considered normal and accepted by the leaders of the community. They would make any rules they wanted, and expect everyone to follow them. Agnes realized that it’s important to question where these society rules come from and who they benefit, to understand if they are actually for the greater good.
This was a powerful story with a beautiful ending.
What to read next:
The Grey Sisters by Jo Treggiari
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Have you read Agnes at the End of the World? What did you think of it?