Pandemic novel falls short amidst COVID-19

Published in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Agnes at the End of the World’’ follows the story of two young girls living in Red Creek. At first glance, everything about Anges’s and Beth’s home seems like a utopia. Deep down, however, the town’s strict laws and restricted access to the outside world give power solely to Red Creek’s leader, a madman claiming to be a prophet.

Anges is unknowingly living in a cult, brainwashed into believing that her only role in life is to complete household chores until the prophet gives her a man to marry. Well, that and secretly meeting an Outsider at the edges of Red Creek to get insulin for her little brother, despite medicine being outlawed.

Looking at the inner workings of a cult member’s psyche is extremely interesting and I appreciate that author, Kelly McWilliams, took the time to allow insight on not only one but two mindsets.

Agnes, the main protagonist, grapples with what Red Creek means to her. For her entire life she has called it home, following the strict rules, and submitting to whatever the prophet preaches.

Yet, there’s a constant doubt of whether gathering insulin for her younger brother is truly a bad thing or if her sister Beth’s yearning to escape Red Creek is a death sentence for her?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Beth goes from wanting to become an Outsider to fully submitting to the following’s mindset. The reader sees both perspectives: follower turn rebel and rebel turned follower.

However, all this is overshadowed by a looming pandemic wreaking havoc on the outside world. Anges, with the help of a boy from the outside, takes her little brother and leaves Red Creek.

The pandemic is not like the current one we are facing, taking on more of an “I Am Legend” path. I can see where it would be more interesting to the reader, but everything felt like a tired cliche. There aren’t many young adult cult books and trying to pile too much on top of it leaves a muddled mess instead of a compelling plotline.

One thing that really stuck out to me as a pitfall for the novel was the introduction of a supernatural element. While there are hints of it at the beginning, the development of flow blown powers feels like a step backwards in many of the themes.

At the end of day, however, this book is a Christian dystopian novel with a twist ending that solves nothing. The premise itself has potential, but the paths McWilliams follows does not do it justice.