Jackie Morse Kessler
Riders of the Apocalypse/Book 3
Harcourt Graphia/March 20, 2012
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.
Bullying is a problem many of us can relate to whether we were the bullied, the bullier or were witnessed to it. I've experienced it as well as seen it not only in my youth but in the workplace. As a kid I only had to put up with it for one school year and unlike Billy Ballard, it wasn't an everyday thing. As I read Billy's story I continued to be shocked at what happened to him on a daily basis. But I know enough from experience that bullies tend to be smart and do their bullying away from the eyes of adults, or at least the adults who might stop them.
Billy Ballard's home life is just as stressful as his school life, but in a different way. Both have the potential for physical violence, one from a school bully, the other from a family member. But the motivation is very different for each. Kessler explores those differences, showing how each affects Billy in different ways. We see Billy change when the right catalyst is employed.
Billy had a serious choice to make which he doesn't take lightly - to become the White Rider, Pestilence. He's not a believer at first, who would be? But Death can be very convincing, even in the guise of dead rocker Kurt Cobain. As Billy learns more about the four riders, their abilities and their responsibilities, he also learns how additive power can be. This is a teen who feels he has no power in his life. He's at the mercy of bullies at school and his overwhelming responsibilities at home. Kessler shows how power can not only seduce, it can corrupt.
As Billy attempts to find the real Pestilence, he sees how Pestilence came to be the White Rider. It's a history lesson that dragged on far too long. I would have rather the story focused more on the bullying and Billy's grandfather's Alzheimer's disease. I thought the bullying might show up within the Four riders and how they treated Billy but it didn't really materialize that way. We do see the other Riders interact with Billy but the impact isn't as strong. It's mainly Billy and Death in the spotlight with Death being his usual cryptic self.
Loss delivers some strong messages about bullying and Alzheimer's disease but they almost get lost among the flashbacks. There are important messages for teens as well as adults within the story which makes this a worthwhile read.
Riders of the Apocalypse