This tale about a remote town in the Pacific Northwest that quarantines itself to escape the Influenza epidemic of 1915 has first book written all over it. The style is pedestrian–almost to the point of boring–and the book could have benefited from a more ruthless editor, but the premise is intriguing and the story quickly paced.
The mill town of Commonwealth votes to quarantine themselves–no one gets in and no one gets out–in the hopes of sparing their community the ravages of the killer flu. Guards are posted to turn away outsiders, the youngest of whom is Philip Worthy, adopted son of the town’s idealistic founder. Much of the narrative is told from this 16-year-old’s point of view and the action kicks off when a soldier wandering lost, hungry and cold in the forest, is shot and killed while on Philip’s watch. At that moment, Commonwealth’s isolationist plan begins to unravel.
Filled with period detail, the story is also striking in its relevance to readers today, dealing with issues of anti-war sentiment, questions of patriotism, loyalty and morality, and the fear of the unknown, both human (the “enemy”) and medical (a deadly disease).