Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Reading Level: Young Adult
Paperback, 251 pages
Date Published: March 20, 2012
Description (Taken from Goodreads):
Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on, from the school bullies to the teachers. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors...and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider—who is lost in his memories.
In his search, Billy travels through White Rider’s life: from ancient Phrygia, where the man called King Mita agrees to wear the White Rider’s Crown, to Sherwood Forest, where Pestilence figures out how to cheat Death; from the docks of Alexandria, where cartons of infested grain are being packed onto a ship that will carry the plague, to the Children’s Crusade in France—all the way to what may be the end of the world. When Billy finally finds the White Rider, the teen convinces the man to return to the real world.
But now the insane White Rider plans to unleash something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Death look like a summer cold. Billy has a choice: he can live his life and pretend he doesn’t know what’s coming, or he can challenge the White Rider for his Crown. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?
Billy’s Gramps having Alzheimer’s adds another layer to the story and especially to Billy. Billy feels inadequate as a human being because of his bullying. When Death comes to him, telling him to take his place as Pestilence, Billy feels like he cannot do it. Yet, day in and day out, he cares for a man he loves who barely even recognizes him. Billy’s strong, but doesn’t realize it.
I said Loss was very different from the previous two books in this quartet. And it is. Very much so. Not only is Billy Ballard the center point of the book and the new Pestilence, but the old Pestilence still reigns; He’s just a little crazy and hanging out in his own mind.
The division between Billy and what becomes known as The White is startlingly clear. We journey, along with Billy, through the hell that King White (Pestilence) has suffered through and even unleashed on the world. For the first time, we get to see how being a Rider is a huge responsibility, but also a looming burden. What comes out of this is stuff made of human nature’s greatest fears and faults. Billy Ballard is a boy staring down the barrel of the gun and he may not be brave enough or strong enough to fight back. Discovering if he is a thrilling experience.
Loss is unlike either of the previous two Riders books, but it’s also exactly like them. Jackie Morse Kessler has developed a way to dig into some deep emotions and pull them out. Loss is by far the best of the quartet thus far and I doubt I’ll forget Billy Ballard or King White anytime soon.
Opening line: The day before Death came for Billy Ballard . . .
. . . Billy was on the ground, getting the snot pounded out of him. ~ pg. 3
“The world is always about to end, William Ballard. The nature of life is to be always on the brink of death.” ~ pg. 200
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