Stephens, J. B. (2004). The Big Empty. New York: Penguin. 204 pages.
Summary and Evaluation: Half of the world's population has been killed by Strain 7, a mysterious virus and the United States is under military rule. The government has forced everyone in the Midwest to evacuate and move to cities on the edges of the country. A secret "almost utopia" has formed a community and has invited many young people to join them. This first book in the series tells how seven teenagers from across the country must leave family, friends, and relative comfort in order to find this secret civilization.
I don't typically enjoy the melodrama of post-disaster stories nor do I enjoy survival stories; however I found that this story really kept me interested. Perhaps it was because the back of the book advertised that there were seven teenagers, and until about half way through I could only count six. I was interested in how all of the teenagers were going to come together. I also found that each of the characters had distinct personalities. Keely, a rich brainiac, met up with Amber, a feisty pregnant teen. Maggie, the shallow unaffected brat, flees New York with her angry boyfriend Michael. Irene uses her medical drama know-how to save Diego, and finally Jonah proves to be the resourceful one. I could tolerate the story because it was told in short chunks jumping from character to character. I wasn't told how everyone got from one place to another, but in stories like these I would rather imagine it than be told every minute detail. The abrupt ending even made me want to check out the second book in the series.
Booktalk Hook: I would do a basic booktalk for the entire series. To get their attention, I would start out saying, 'half of the world's population is dead and America has become a dictatorship." Then I would move into telling what people are doing about it and the adventures this group has.
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