A Timely Work for Younger Readers: ‘The Antidote’

Michigan native, Susan McCormick’s ‘The Antidote’ is a timely book for children and adults. We spoke with McCormick about her inspiration behind the work.

The Antidote
Image courtesy of Susan McCormick’s website.

When Susan McCormick began writing her novel The Antidote, about a twelve-year-old boy who can see disease and must battle an ancient evil and the creator of disease, she had no idea how timely it would be with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her goal was simple: to create a compelling story that communicated important facts about health, disease, and the human body within the context of a novel that was fun and engaging.  

In volunteering at her son’s middle school, she saw how knowledgeable all the students were in mythology because of popular middle school novels such as The Lightning Thief. It occurred to McCormick — a Michigan native who is now a doctor and author in Seattle — that if she could create a book equally as exciting for middle schoolers, she could spark an interest in medicine and the human body.

The Antidote Combines Myth and Health

McCormick notes, “Unbelievably, The Antidote was written before COVID, but has gained such timeliness because of the pandemic. Kids have seen a vaccine get created in one year; they’ve seen nurses and EMTs and doctors treat all these patients, they’ve seen ventilators being redone with people coming up with ways to isolate patients and do contact tracing. I hope children will be inspired to pursue science, and this book is a great way to help stoke the fire.”

the antidote
Author Susan McCormick. Image courtesy of Susan McCormick

The Antidote integrates medicine and science into an engaging storyline: “Alex Revelstoke, the protagonist, is engaging and empathetic. There’s a magical dog and the book is set in the Pacific Northwest, where we have so much moss and greenery and the huge volcano, Mt. Rainier. I made an exciting and understandable villain, Bill — the historical aspect of the diseases in the book were really fun to write from the villain’s point of view. He’s created and is proud of these diseases, and that was so interesting.”

McCormick included a lot of medically accurate details, inspired by this occurrence in her life: “Several years ago, a boy in our area fell into the river, and he remembered reading in a book that if you fall into running water, keep your feet up, and that will help you not drown. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if I had a few Easter Eggs in the book where kids could learn vital information in such a way, like how to do a Heimlich maneuver, or how to use an AED, or use a calming breathing exercise when in duress?”

Fun Facts Throughout

the antidote
The Newfoundland who inspired the novel’s magical dog. Image courtesy of Susan McCormick

The Antidote certainly delivers, with a compelling storyline, empathetic characters, and fun facts about disease — a few of McCormick’s personal favorites are that dogs have much fewer taste buds than people do, which is why they’re fine with the same dog food every day! And dogs’ sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than ours. They can smell low blood sugar in a diabetic, COVID in an infected patient, and can even tell when their owners’ oxytocin, serotonin, and/or dopamine levels are off. These are all part of how they know to cheer up their owner when their owner is sad.

Check out her website and order The Antidote here, or get it as an audiobook! There is also a curriculum guide on the website for educators or parents who want to help their child dig deeper into the story.