The Passage by Justin CroninOne of the more anticipated novels of the year just hit the BookPage offices, and so far it more than justifies the hype. Justin Cronin's The Passage was inspired by his 9-year-old daughter—she asked him to write a novel about a girl who saved the world. Four years later, Cronin, known for his quiet literary works, had completed a 700-page manuscript that was the talk of the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair and sold for $3 million.

Layered and complex, The Passage is the type of vividly imagined book that really draws readers in. Cronin is able to make characters who only appear on 10 pages as alive as his main characters, and in the novel's first 100 pages he has set the stage for what promises to be an epic saga: a young girl is abandoned; a scientific team on an expedition in South America discovers a mysterious, deadly virus; a death row inmate is released and transported to a secret location by a military operative for experimentation.

The story begins like this:

Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.

The day Amy was born, her mother, Jeannette, was nineteen years old. Jeannette named her baby Amy for her own mother, who'd died when Jeannette was little, and gave her the middle name Harper for Harper Lee, the lady who'd written To Kill a Mockingbird—truth be told, the only book she'd made it all the way through in high school. She might have named her Scout, after the little girl in the story, because she wanted her little girl to grow up like that, tough and funny and wise, in a way that she, Jeannette, had never managed to be. But Scout was a name for a boy, and she didn't want her daughter to have to go around explaining something like that.

Want to read more? We're giving away our teaser galley of The Passage, which contains the first eight chapters, to one lucky U.S. reader. Leave a comment telling us what your favorite "end of the world" novel is before 10am CST on Monday, January 25, and you'll be entered to win.

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