The thing that surprised me most about Vivian Apple is not her heroine-like qualities, though she’s got those in spades, it’s how much I identify with a 17-year-old girl who has just lived through The Rapture.
The author, Katie Coyle, was inspired to write her first book by a 2011 article about Harold Camping’s failed Rapture prediction, and in particular, inspired an interview with some children who did not believe, but whose parents did. The disconnect in the family was palpable, and extremely awkward for the children who wanted to just keep going to school and living a normal life, while the parents were… y’know, preparing to be sucked up by God into his godly spaceship or something. (That’s how that happens, right?) I’m 99% sure I read the same article as she did, and I was merely inspired to laugh at the stupid parents. Coyle was inspired to write a book series. (This is probably why she won the 2013 Guardian/HotKey Young Writer’s Competition and I like to eat name-brand macaroni and cheese when I can afford it.)
To be honest, Vivian is totally not the kind of person I’d want as my friend in the beginning of the novel.
She’s… well, she’s a pushover. She’s the perfect child, the kid who always gets straight As, and the meek girl who never says a wrong word. In fact, her friend Harpreet Janda (who goes by Harp which is what I totally want people to start calling me, even though it would make absolutely no sense) is much more my speed. Harp smokes and cusses and generally breaks the rules without thought to her image. She’s the kind of girl I’d be instant friends with. Not Vivian, not at first.
But Viv’s disturbingly perfect world is shattered when her parents disappear the morning after The Rapture prediction, led by a cult-like leader named Beaton Frick. Vivian comes home after Harp’s Rapture’s Eve party to find two holes in the ceiling and a cupboard full of Church of America-approved canned goods for the next six months until… well until all hell literally breaks loose in America.
The most captivating thing about this book is the cult-like atmosphere Coyle brilliantly weaves. It’s easy for someone like myself, who isn’t very religious, to point and laugh at people like Harold Camping, but I think there is a sort of irrational, primal fear in all of us that we’re susceptible to being led like lemmings off a cliff by charlatans selling snake oil. A quick look at the history of American cults is fascinating stuff, and it’s not hard to get caught up in the what-ifs of it. What if America was taken over by a cult religion, ala Westboro Baptist, FLDS, or The People’s Temple? That’s what’s happened in Vivian’s world, and I’ve got only one thing to say: Damn, it’s scary.
Once the first “boatload” has “ascended,” those who were Frick’s left-behind Believers become murderous zealots in their quest to make sure there’s room on the second (and supposedly final) boat. Vivian, Harp, and their new friend: a mysterious but sexy boy named Peter (because of course there’s a mysterious but sexy love interest) set off on a dangerous cross-country journey to find answers. Their trip takes them from Pittsburgh to Mount Rushmore, San Francisco and beyond in search of Viv’s parents, what’s really going on, and causes each of them to question what they really “believe.” Along the way they meet the resistance group known as the New Orphans.
The New Orphans
The older generation has seriously fucked it up for the rest of us.
Take back this country.”
Without trying to spoil the book for you, the whole New Orphans, Church of America and the story of Viv’s parents is pretty fucked up, especially for a 17-year-old girl who is dealing with a world that has gone to hell. Vivian Apple’s America is the kind of America we dream about in our worst nightmares. And it’s absolutely fascinating.
I’d like to believe, as Viv and her friends do, that were America to start up again, that those who remain would be able to remold it to our modern needs and desires, preferably in an outpouring of goodwill and collaborative effort. But as our protagonist learns (and in a way, so do I) the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And Vivian Apple’s America is very much on the road to hell.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that not believing in (or in my case, an apathy toward) God puts me in the minority. This book seems to catch up both the worst and the best sides of every belief system, and it’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelming theme that unchecked religion is no better than drinking the spiked Kool-Aid. So it’s jarring not only for Vivian, but also for me, when Viv is cautioned by her favorite teacher, who we’ve just found out is a Believer (of sorts):
“We could sit here and have an in-depth discussion about why I believe the things I believe in, about the kind of comfort and guidance I’ve taken from my faith throughout my life, but it wouldn’t matter to you one iota, Viv, because you don’t believe. And that’s okay! It’s not up to me to tell you what you should believe in. That’s the kind of thing you’ve got to figure out for yourself. But let me tell you this: you can’t go through life distinguishing the Believers from the Non-Believers and divvying up your love and trust accordingly. It’s more complicated than that, Viv, and you know it.“
Coyle reminds all of us that while it’s okay to Believe, it’s not okay to force those beliefs on others. And any belief system, pushed to the extreme, is a scary, scary place to reside. The key to a peaceful world is understanding and acceptance of that which we don’t understand.
If only it were that easy, for Vivian and us.
Vivian Apple at the end of the world is classed as Young Adult Literature, and had it been around when I was a teenager, it would have had a special place in my traveling library of books I gave to friends on the hush-hush-down-low. The occasional curse word and heavy social issues-theme is present, so maybe if your family is more in the “Believer” category than the “New Orphans” camp, proceed with caution. Since I’m not a young Adult, I fully plan on recommending this book to everyone I know. Including the teenagers. It’s a captivating novel that I’d recommend for anyone who’s a fan of post-apocalyptic literature, along the lines of The Handmaiden’s Tale. Coyle’s prose is captivating and concise; a delight to read and free from heavy tangles of words that can often bring down freshman attempts by authors. I would call it “easy to read” but that might lead you to think that the book is an “easy read,” and that’s just not true. It is, however, a worthy read.
“I say to myself, Dear God, and then I scratch that for obvious reasons. Dear Universe, I say. Make me less meek, make me less afraid. Dear Universe, make me the hero of my own story.”
“It’s a line from the story of Frick’s first vision — the one he had in a dream, where he and God chat over Frappuccinos at Starbucks for a few minutes before God condemns secular morals and burns all the barista’s eyeballs out. It’s what God says to Frick while everyone else is rolling around on the floor, screaming for mercy. ‘You are my child, I am your father.'”
“The Book of Frick claims that in the late 1970s Jesus personally appeared to Frick in a powder-blue Chrysler convertible that had the power to travel instantly through space and time. Jesus used the vehicle to usher Frick to seven different spots in the United States that were personally blessed by God for one reason or another and at which believers and Non-Believers alike could expect to find redemption. The list includes everything you’d think it would: the Grand Canyon, the Pentagon, Wall Street (“For God saw that Americans were industrious and made money in His name, and he saw that it was good.”). It’s one of the many parts of the Book of Frick that make you wonder whether or not Frick was just straight-up on ‘shrooms when he was writing it.”
“I mean, I was the one who started the hastag #beatonfrickisadipshit”
Vivian Apple at the End of the World is slated for publication in the United States in January 2015, through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. You can follow the author, Katie Coyle, at katiecoyle.tumblr.com or on twitter at @krcoyle.