Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Yvonne Ventresca's Compelling Young Adult Novel "Pandemic," a Great Read for This Trying Time

Today our blog showcases Yvonne Ventresca, the author whose short story 
"The Third Ghost" won the top honor in the Voyagers anthology, giving the book its title and cover.  Yvonne is sharing the backstory to her award-winning young adult novel Pandemic.

Winner of the Crystal Kite Award
given by The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators


Behind the Scenes:  Researching Pandemic Before the Current Pandemic

My young adult novel, Pandemic, is a contemporary story about a teenager struggling to survive a deadly flu outbreak. Although it was set in present-day New Jersey (before the current pandemic), I spent time researching the Spanish Flu of 1918 and used that disease as a model for the fictional one in my book.

Here are a few things I learned while researching Pandemic:

The influenza pandemic of 1918 is commonly called the Spanish Flu, but it didn’t originate in Spain. In March of that year, known cases occurred among soldiers in Kansas. But in June, Spain informed the world of a new disease in Madrid, and the Spanish Flu was belatedly named as it spread worldwide. It killed more Americans than all of World War I. 

The Spanish flu had a different mortality pattern than previous flu outbreaks, with the highest death rates occurring in adults between the ages of twenty and fifty. The reasons for that pattern are still not entirely understood, but according to the US, the 1918 virus “evolved directly from a bird flu into a human flu.”

In 1918, sanitation measures included wearing face masks, blow-torching water fountains, hosing down streets, and locking public phone booths. 

In a time before technology, colored ribbons were placed on doorways to indicate a flu death in the household. The color of the ribbon indicated the age range of the dead. White, for example, was used for children.

Katherine Anne Porter’s short novel, Pale Horse, Pale Rideris set during the 1918 Influenza. It’s a work of fiction (published in 1939), but was no doubt influenced by Porter’s memories of the pandemic and her own illness. The tragic story provides a sense of the war, the disease, and the desperation of that time.

Beds with patients in an emergency hospital in Camp Funston, Kansas.
The flu struck while America was at war, 
and was transported across the Atlantic on troop ships. 
Date: circa 1918 

Excerpt from PANDEMIC:

At this point in Pandemic, there have been local cases of the Blue Flu, including one death. Lil visits her best friend, Megs, who is getting dressed to meet a boy she has only corresponded with online. This scene is a snapshot of both the mundane aspects and the very deepness of their friendship.

I found Megs surrounded by a dozen shirts heaped on her bedroom floor.

“What should I wear?” she asked. “I need something to go with my favorite jeans.” She plopped on her bed, face flushed.

I hesitated, torn between worrying about her safety and wanting to support her romantic longings. “You’re sure you want to go through with this?”

She nodded.

“Then don’t worry, we’ll find something. You have great clothes.” I glanced at her alarm clock. It was 6:15.

She followed my eyes. “I’ll be fashionably late.”

I pulled out a turquoise blouse that had fabric cutouts in the back.

“I need to look good from the front, not when I leave,” she said.

“Right.” I told her about Ethan while I searched her closet for something better.

“Are you sure you want to start with him again?” she asked.

“I don’t know. He made it sound like, how could I not give us one more chance?” My phone pinged. “Ugh.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Ethan’s already texting me.” I sighed. “He’s looking forward to tonight.”

“Ah, it’s nice to see he hasn’t lost that stalker-ish quality.”

I glared at her.

“Lil, you know I’m right. If your heart’s not in it, don’t go.”

“I miss my old life before . . . everything.” I kept flipping through her closet.

“But dating Ethan again won’t magically turn back time. It won’t make the other stuff vanish.”

“I guess you’re right,” I said.

“Hmm . . . at least we both have dates tonight.”

“It’s not a date. I’m going over to his house.”

“I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about tomorrow,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m finally meeting him.”

Near the back of the closet, a black top with three-quarter sleeves was lodged between two camis. I didn’t even take it all the way out before Megs shook her head. Her face was shiny and I realized she was sweating. “Are you nervous?”

“A little. I’m not feeling great. I think it’s all the excitement.”

“You shouldn’t go if you don’t feel well.”

She scowled at me. “I have to go. I can’t explain it. It feels like part of something bigger, like destiny.”

I pursed my lips together to keep from spouting my opinion. After pulling out a pale blue shirt, I held it against her. “This will look good with— ”

My fingers brushed against her arm. She was burning hot. I put the back of my hand against her forehead the way Mom always did to me. “You feel feverish.”

“I’m fine.” She swayed as she tried to stand.

“Megs, you’re sick.” Fear made my voice quiver.

“You can’t go. This is crazy.”

“It’s too late to cancel.” She sank onto her bed, coughing. “Can you get me a glass of water while I change?”

“Sure.” I hurried to the kitchen. Mrs. Salerno sat at the counter, a newspaper spread in front of her.

I had to tell her about Megs. She’d forgive me for missing her date, eventually. “Mrs. Salerno, I . . .”

She looked at me, waiting.

Then we both heard it: the crashing sound from Megs’s room.

We raced up the stairs. Megs lay sprawled on the floor next to her toppled bedside table.

“I felt dizzy, and then . . .”

Mrs. Salerno scooped her up and laid her on the bed. “Let me get the thermometer.”

After her mom left the room, Megs looked at me, pleading. “I need you to do me a favor.”

I knew what she was about to ask. “No way.”

“Please? You don’t have to talk to him. It’ll be crowded, so he won’t notice you. Look for the guy carrying a book, something that would have meaning to me. Then I’ll tell him later how sick I was, that I couldn’t make it.”

“I’m supposed to meet Ethan soon. And a crowded shop mean germs.”

“Could you tell him you’re running late? It wouldn’t take much time. If you walked in and out, it’s like two minutes of exposure.” She widened her eyes, pleading.

This was important to her, no matter how much I disapproved. I considered it. For my best friend, I could probably handle a few moments in a public place.

More about Pandemic:
In Pandemic, only a few people know what caused Lilianna Snyder's sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. When people begin coming down with a quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat, Lil’s worst fears are realized. With her parents called away on business before the contagious outbreak, Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread fatal illness. With friends and neighbors dying around her, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons.

To connect with Yvonne: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter 
To buy Pandemic: Indiebound | Amazon 

More about Yvonne:
Yvonne Ventresca is an award-winning author dedicated to writing suspenseful stories that readers can’t put down. Her Crystal-Kite-winning YA debut, Pandemic, continues to be a timely read about surviving a widespread deadly virus. Her second novel, Black Flowers, White Lies, explores toxic relationships and won a Gold “IPPY” for best YA fiction. Her latest short story, “The Third Ghost,” is now featured in the latest IWSG anthology, Voyagers: The Third Ghost, a collection for nine to twelve-year-old readers. For more information, and for free resources for writers, visit her website at

A 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Winner!

A Last Word:
Over the past two nights I was up very late devouring Yvonne's book Pandemic.  
It was a strange feeling to be reading about a pandemic while in a pandemic.  
What I kept thinking over and over was how eerily prescient the novel is.  
Yvonne's portrayal of an epidemic is vividly real, and I liked the juxtaposition 
of Lilianna's story with the objective quotes of officials on the Blue Flu 
pandemic at the beginning of each chapter.  Lil's voice is authentic.  Her 
experiences put me right back into the angst of being in high school, the 
rollercoaster ride of young love, and the drama of close friendships.  I'll join 
Booklist, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews in recommending this 
fast-paced apocalyptic novel.  It touched me deeply, and I will not forget it.      

I'll be back on October 28th with another post.   

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue 

* * * * * * * * * *

If you haven't read Yvonne's short story "The Third Ghost" 
in VOYAGERS:  The Third Ghost, you can find it here.

You can order a copy of
VOYAGERS: The Third Ghost 
at the links below.

Print 9781939844729 $13.95
EBook 9781939844736 $4.99

Juvenile Fiction - Historical / Action & Adventure /
Fantasy & Magic


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Almost eerie she wrote that story just before the current pandemic broke out.

Yvonne Ventresca said...

Louise -- thanks so much for featuring me on the blog, and I appreciate your review. Your positive response made my day. :)

Fundy Blue said...

I know, Alex! Isn't that wild? Yvonne really captured how a pandemic rolls out today. Take care, my friend!

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks, Yvonne! I thoroughly enjoyed your book!

Sherry Ellis said...

That's certainly an appropriate book for the times! That's all interesting information about the Spanish flu.

Fundy Blue said...

Definitely, Sherry. I didn't realize that it actually began in Kansas. Thanks for stopping by!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

What we are going through is more like the Hong Kong flu, thank goodness.

Fundy Blue said...

For sure, Diane! Have a good one!

Roland Clarke said...

I never knew about Kansas, although I knew 'Spanish' was incorrect. I read somewhere that there were outbreaks in Germany before Spain, but the war news smothered that. I've added the book to my reading list, although my health has stymied reading for now.

Fundy Blue said...

Hi, Roland! Thanks for stopping by, even when you are having a tough time. I hope you feel better soon. I finished "Spiral of Hooves" again last night. I've basically read it three times ~ first for the story, second to look at how it was structured and woven together, and third to learn more about the horse universe and places, like Bramham and Cévennes (i.e. read and google search). I enjoyed your book more and more with each reading. Yvonne's book "Pandemic" is excellent, and I hope you can read it very soon, my friend! Take care!

Roland Clarke said...

Tough time of my own weaving - with threads of distraction. I'm impressed/honoured/amazed 'Spiral of Hooves' had you re-reading twice more. I thought I was one of the only people, other than my editors, to trawl through it again - many blushing thanks.

I will order Yvonne's book to motivate me.

Susan B.Rouchard said...

Thanks Yvonne for this extract of your novel and insights into your research process. Congratulations. Take care, stay safe.

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks for stopping by, Susan! Yvonne's book was so good! You take care too.

Fundy Blue said...

Just found this, Roland! I loved your book, and I learned so much! I look forward to reading more of your writing, my friend!