Agnes At the End of the World, a perfect pandemic read
by Hannah Michaels
What will happen next?
This is a question I often ask myself while reading Agnes at the end of the World by Kelly McWilliams. This book is full of plot twists and new, surprising information. “Father cleared his throat, looking strangely unsure ‘last night the prophet had a revelation’ … What was father talking about?” ( McWilliams 45). This quote was right before Agnes heard news that would change her life. Little did she know the news might not come true exactly as she thought it would.
This book is based around a town called Red Creek, run by the Prophet who controls the townspeople through manipulation. The reader navigates this setting through the viewpoint of one family whose kids help save the world. Agnes, the older sister, finds out that she is part of the cure for a disease destroying the outsiders. Beth, the middle sister, helps start a wave of realization that the Prophet's words are toxic. The sisters have younger twin sisters and two younger brothers. The baby of the family, named Ezikiel, has a mysterious disease and is between life and death for the majority of the book. Agnes cares deeply for her brother and has an altruistic, responsible personality; yet, McWilliams puts her character through many challenges, forcing Agne's to question who she is as a person. Beth is very strong willed and curious, but her character is constantly compared to her sister, so Beth also struggles to find her identity.
We are able to see two perspectives, Beth’s and Agne’s, able to relive each situation through the two very different sisters' viewpoints. McWilliams allows the reader to follow along with the sisters to learn new information as the sisters grow and change. “The girl who obeyed without question was dead...only one thought blazed in her mind now, bright as the polestar: virus or not, I have to get the children out” ( McWilliams 97). This quote shows one of Agnes' character developments. Agnes had always been the kid who followed directions and never questioned Red Creek's ways. Now she is going into rebellion, wanting to defy every order, every rule she has ever known.
Along with the protagonists' dynamic changes, the characters in Agnes remain complex: not fully evil, not fully good. The antagonists, the Prophet along with past Prophets, controlled the town into thinking their world is the only acceptable way of life; if the townspeople step out of bounds or break any of the strict rules, they suffer painful consequences and would be banished into the dangerous world of the Outsiders.
Despite this type of manipulation, the Prophet's motives can be seen as benevolent. The Prophet ultimately makes choices so that the town can once again hear God’s voice, believing, falsely, that what he does is what God wants. McWilliams does an excellent job of revealing these intentions in a suspenseful way as the Prophets commit sexist acts and crimes against humanity. “No’...’ I was trying to get his attention. I thought, if he saw how much I was willing to sacrifice he would come back.” (McWilliams 390). This quote reveals the Prophet's true reasoning for being so controlling and locking everyone away.
Agnes at the End of the World is a dystopian story, with a message beyond the thrilling plot of Agnes and Beth trying to save the world from a deadly disease while saving Red Creek from a destructive prophet. Reading this book will unlock a new outlook on our current life and a new perspective on many, seemingly, normal activities. I would highly recommend this book for people who feel like they are going through the same journey inside the book as we navigate the current pandemic.