Wednesday, September 09, 2015

This Is the Way the World Ends

I don't track how books end up on my to-read list, but I vividly remember where I first heard of Katie Coyle's Vivian Apple at the End of the World.  It was in Rookie magazine, in a round-up of book recommendations, and I remember it so vividly because it was, at the time, impossible to find.  Vivian Versus the Apocalypse, as it was called at the time, had only been published in England, and I waited for almost a year to see signs of it around here.

I was excited to get a copy from Netgalley, but since it was a PDF I couldn't read it on my kindle, and so another year or so has gone by.  But I've cracked the PDF problem (mostly), and I joined Vivian Apple on her cross country trek in the face of the Rapture just as the sequel, Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle, hits the bookshelves.

We open with Vivian at a Rapture's Eve party; her parents are Believers and members of the Church of America, like almost everybody, it sometimes seems.  The party is a blast, but when she gets home to find her parents gone and two holes in the ceiling, she knows she's living in a different world.

Vivian and her friend Harp, between one thing and another, end up on a cross-country trip, seeking a movement of non-Believers called the New Orphans, Vivian's estranged extended family, and possibly the secret compound of the head of the Church of America, whose name is Beaton Frick.  Along the way from Pittsburgh to California, they encounter dangerous zealots trying to earn their way onto the "second boat to heaven," old friends in new life situations, and adults ranging from scary to cold to loving.

The best part of this book was Vivian herself; she spoke not only to actual-17-year-old me, but also to 30-mumble-year-old me who looks back on that 17 year old and wishes she could smack some sense into her.  Vivian is a good girl, a poster child, but always a little discontent with it.  Following the rules never quite got her what she was looking for; she's not even sure what that is.  In the aftermath of the Rapture, she starts out looking for the structures that she knows how to navigate, and only gradually does she find herself to be someone who can take action outside of the system.  This is kind of a theme in my life and my personality (no Rapture yet here), so I really loved that Vivian didn't start out as unstoppable. 

I loved Harp, too.  I love that sometimes she's the sidekick and sometimes she's the chief action-taker--you could write this book as Harp's story, if you wanted to.  She and Vivian each have moments of shining and moments of weakness, and they carry each other through them. 

I would have liked this book more, but the honest truth is, I've read too much dystopia.  Vivian's great, real, convincing--the end of the world is less so.  This book absolutely fails as process dystopia.  There are holes, and in the battle between my finely honed disaster preparedness plan and my richly experienced suspension of disbelief, the part of me that's ready for civilization to collapse walked away shaking its head. 

If only 3,000 were raptured total across the country, how do things collapse so thoroughly?  Heck, how does word get out so fast?  If gas is $14 a gallon and it costs $50 to go to Taco Bell, how come everyone you meet has a fridge full of the same food they've always had?  If the Church of America really believes that God is going to save just Americans, how does the rest of the world feel about the diseases and natural disasters that are sweeping the world?

The ending was pretty satisfying, actually--not entirely closed-ended (both in that there's a sequel, and in that there is room for belief and disbelief in the explanations for the apocalypse), but with a lot of good explanation and more to explore.  But it opens itself up to more questions--not the kind that the sequel will answer, but the kind you want to ask the author about, the kind that my mind keeps calling "holes."

I think I'd say this book is quite successful as a fable.  You can't look at the worldbuilding very closely at all or it falls apart, but if you don't look too closely, if you see the whole world as a set for Vivian to learn and love and live and grow, it's a really charming and fulfilling story.  It's the epitome of a young adult book. 

And I'm going to read the sequel; I guess I'd call that a thumbs-up.

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