The End of October

by Lawrence Wright

“Danger is invariably present in the investigation of an unknown pathogen. Diseases may arise from many sources, including viruses, parasites, bacteria, fungi, amoebas, toxins, protozoa, and prions, and each has a strategy for survival. In addition to the multiple ways infection can spread, serious diseases can masquerade as something common and relatively harmless. Headaches may be a symptom of a sinus infection or a sign of an impending stroke. Fever, fatigue, and muscle aches can signal a cold, or the onset of meningitis. Going into this field, alone, in an alien environment, with minimal resources, was the most perilous mission a disease detective like Henry could undertake. On the other hand, the danger of an outbreak of virulent disease was great enough that Henry was willing to take the risk. He had long since recognized that luck was an unreliable but indispensable companion to such an adventure.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: A-

The End of October is not a YA novel by any stretch of the imagination – it deals with political tensions, a global pandemic, and has some decidedly mature themes – but this is a captivating book and a great fit for fans of Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, or Clive Cussler. The clever writing, minimalist dialogue, and journalistic lens make this a book that can easily cross the line from adult bestseller to popular teen read. The book revolves around Dr. Henry Parsons, a physically scarred, but mentally strong individual who is determined to combat a new strain of a virus that is sweeping the globe. With twists and turns, this novel weaves multiple plot lines together as forces unite to deal with a contagion on a scale far greater than anyone imagined. Reading The End of October was simultaneously enlightening (so that is how the DNA/RNA thing works) and comforting (at least we don’t have any of those symptoms or problems with Covid-19).

I appreciated Wright’s extensive research – he has packed this book with facts and historical details that highlight nearly every aspect of disease, vaccinations, plagues and more. While this might seem dark (or dull), in the context of this thrilling story, it is compelling and adds rich layers to the story. This might be an odd book to recommend during a pandemic as the entire story focuses on a plague that breaks out and decimates society as we know it, but there are so many layers to the story, and it serves as such a wealth of information, that the book was an unexpectedly comforting read. I found this book to be engaging, but it does skew toward the medical science and political relations side of journalistic fiction. If those are not appealing, then this would likely not be of interest.

Movie Rating: R

The End of October is largely a medical/political thriller, and as such has more mature themes. This rating, though, was given for a few unexpected scenes. There are two scenes where Henry is thinking about the intimate side of his relationship with his wife; while there is nothing particularly graphic about the descriptions, it is a bit more adult than your average YA novel. There is some swearing (as one might expect in a novel about the downfall of humanity), but it is limited in scope. The R rating might be a bit harsh given these two things, but I think it is warranted when considering the detail that Wright goes into regarding the virus itself. For example, when Henry finds a fellow doctor who has been infected by the disease, no detail is spared describing her physical appearance, how he investigates her corpse with his medical tools, and the fluids that emanate from the body. The graphic details may be used to paint a picture of the depravity of the virus, but might also be a bit overwhelming for your average teen reader.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Maybe

This book is definitely for a more mature reader. It is journalist fiction – a genre that is hard to find on most YA book shelves – and requires a bit of geo-political knowledge (i.e. that the U.S. and Russia have had an on-again, off-again relationship), but is the perfect read for some of my more reluctant readers who crave a bit of suspense on a global scale. While this doesn’t have the appeal of spies, and Henry (as a protagonist) is pretty nerdy, it is jam packed with information and will likely draw in readers who tend to gravitate toward nonfiction, but are seeking a bit of an escape. This book may hit too close to home right now, and as a result, might not be the best fit for every library, but much like some of the best Michael Crichton novels, has an enduring appeal that might attract readers down the road when they have had a bit of time to reflect on the whole Covid-19 pandemic.

Summary:

Henry Parsons is an epidemiologist with a track record of solving the puzzles and problems that diseases can cause for humanity. When he hears that there is an outbreak of an unknown disease in Indonesia, he travels there to contain it. There he encounters a disease that the world has never seen, and becomes determined to contain it. With little help from the government, however, he is unable to control who goes in and out of the quarantine zone, and soon the virus has spread across the globe.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to current global events, the world becomes a frightening place, and Dr. Parsons works to stop the disease while trying to get home to the United States and reunite with his family. In a journey that takes him literally around the globe, Henry desperately seeks a cure and fights for his own survival. With thorough journalistic research and loads of twists and turns, The End of October raises questions about our current situation and takes on a global pandemic in a surreal way with a high degree of authenticity.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. How does the virus get out of the Indonesian camp?
  2. What is one thing that you learned about viruses, vaccinations, or disease from this book?
  3. Why does Henry need the birds on the submarine? What does he do based on the findings?
  4. How does Helen prove that she is stronger and braver than she thought she was? How do her actions change her relationship with Teddy?
  5. What has Henry decided to do with his family at the end of the book? Why are they doing this?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
  • Pandemic by Daniel Kalla
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