ARC Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle


title:  Vivian Apple at the End of the World

author:  Katie Coyle

pages: 272

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0544340114

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of John Green, especially An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns.  Cynics and romantics.  

will i read this author again?:  Absolutely  
will i continue the series?:  Yes!  I can't wait.  
My Ratings Explained

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.

the basics
If you're looking for irreverent adventure with a smidge of romance, a lot of friendship, and a whole helping of existential crises, then look no further than the Rapture.  Vivian's hook reeled me in: a fundamentalist Christian cult, a seeming Apocalypse, a ragtag team of Rapture orphans searching for answers.  Um, yes, please.  It's a timely exploration in a world threatened by religious extremism.  Coyle resists the urge to be heavy handed, however.  Her Church of America is a tongue-in-cheek parody of rampant capitalism and backward gender roles.  There's the terrifying threat of being shunned and murdered by Believers; there's also the cheery billboards advertising Li'l Ronnie Reagan's Heavenly Jelly Beans and tasteful Rapture-wear.  The snarky-serious tone spoke to the cynic in me, and amped up what was already a touching adventure story.  It's a book of wandering, which could get boring except that the characters are so immediately endearing, the journey so fraught with emotional tension, that even quiet moments of lost-ness become enthralling.  I was, dare I say, enraptured (har har) but Coyle's smart writing, tight plotting, and attention to shades of gray.  

Although I still kind of like the British title better.  

plot . 5/5
Vivian is a road trip story with a lot of big and little twists.  This isn't just about quirky teenagers trying to "find" themselves.  There's an undercurrent of yearning and hopelessness that gives every scene tension and motion.  It starts with two holes in Vivian's roof; her parents gone, her friend's parents gone, the entire country going mad with Rapture fear.  Vivian is quickly faced with the choice of avoiding the Rapture with her atheist grandparents, or joining her friends and finding the truth.  It's not a huge spoiler; she picks road trip.  What follows is a sprawling search for truth fraught with danger: fights with murderous Believers, sojourns with hippy drum circling orphans, fumbling romances, family skeletons leaping out of their closets.  There's always excitement.  It ends with a bombshell that had me nearly, very nearly buying the British version of the sequel so I wouldn't have to wait.  

concept . 4/5
Imagine the fundies were right.  Imagine that, suddenly, as predicted, hundreds of cultists simply disappeared.  Imagine this happens in the wake of global natural disasters and the decaying of Earth.  Would you cast aside your doubts and believe, or stay strong in your cynicism?  What would you do with your last three months on Earth?  Coyle is genius in that she doesn't give up easy answers.  Vivian and her friends are always struggling with questions of whether the Rapture is real, and the world is doomed, or whether this is some kind of sick joke.  And so is the rest of the horrified American populus.  The left-behind Believers become murderous in their fear and rage; quasi-Believers jump on the bandwagon, bolstered by the seeming miracle; non-Believers form extremist groups, hide in drum circles, or stolidly march on with their semi-normal lives.  It's a mystery that makes you unsure yourself--is this real, or is Coyle playing tricks with you?  That's cool enough, but even more interesting, you have all of these children like Vivian whose Believer parents have abandoned them.  As much as Vivian struggles with the truth or lies of the Rapture, she also struggles to understand how her parents could have left her behind.  

characters . 4/5
I love them.  I love them all.  Mostly.  Vivian, our protagonist, is a wonderfully waffling good girl whose completely lost and torn between easy comforts and difficult, dangerous pursuits of truth.  She's the perfect narrator because she's struggling with the same questions I had throughout the book.  She's also quietly brave and clever, which I admire.  Harp, her best friend, is the definition of feisty but not in a brash, uncomplicated way.  She's struggling with her own demons; they're just harder to see.  Then there's adorable, rational Peter, who just begs to be hugged.  Coyle treats the slew of side characters as real people more than props, giving each enough flavor to feel like real people with their own stories.  The most enigmatic, however, are Vivian's parents.  You see them after conversion, but you don't see enough of them beforehand to understand their transition, to understand their relationship with Vivian, to understand their later actions.  They're so important to the story that it was disappointing not to really know them.  

Also, I love what she did with Beaton Frick and Adam Taggart, even though Frick is the last name of a researcher I really love, which is odd.  

style . 5/5
Coyle's style emphasizes some of my favorite tricks of young adult writing.  It's always a balancing act, writing something that will be accessible to teens without being patronizing, that will be complex and literary without being arcane.  Coyle's a master of the tightrope.  Her writing, first person, is believably teenaged.  It's layered with a mix of sarcasm and wonder, and sprinkles with the simple, unexpectedly profound.  There were parts that I actually laughed at, aloud, like a maniac.  She manages to make the emotions felt.  Her dialogue is also snappy and believable.  Some favorite bits:  

It's odd now to remember the old ways in which families used to fracture.   

"Oh, hey," I say. "I'm Viv.  I think this Rapture business is a complex and nuanced phenomenon, but probably this isn't the best environment for me to explain my many intelligent thoughts about it.  If I had to sum it up flippantly, though, I'd say it's a downer."  

mechanics . 4/5
We're going to talk a little bit about religion here, since this is my catchall category.  Coyle does a really great job of poking fun both at the fundie religious right and the incompetent disorganized far left, leaving all the rest of us staggering in between.  What she misses, though, is an opportunity to draw lines between extremist Believers and the normal, everyday believers who love God or a god but don't buy into the sectarian, bigoted crap.  She gets into this a little with a clever, clearly sympathetic Catholic character, but only for al itte and only at the end.  Especially given the climate of religious extremism in the real world, it would have been great to add some of that nuance.  I hope to see more of that in the sequel.  

take home message
A simultaneously quirky and poignant adventure about the end of the world, and the choices we make in the face of terror.   In a sea of dystopian romances, it's a fresh and highly original plot.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  Many thanks to Rachel Fershleiser, who sent me this copy.  

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