Release Date: January 6, 2015
(previously published on August 5, 2013)
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC provided by publisher for review consideration
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 road trip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivian Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.
Tell Me More: The end of the world is never far from readers’ imaginations, but it’s the last thing on Vivian Apple’s mind. But when her parents disappear during the alleged Rapture—and through two holes in the ceiling, no less—Vivian isn’t quite sure what to believe anymore. Katie Coyle’s debut novel takes on an intimidating concept and makes it intimate, centering it around a family and what they believe of themselves and of each other.
I must confess that, like Vivian regarding her parents’ beliefs, I was skeptical of the story that was put forth at first. I’m a practicing Catholic and have studied Rapture speculation, and I wondered if the novel would spend enough time developing the Church of America to make the rest of the story work. While the Reverend Frick’s name might raise some eyebrows, the Church itself is rather chilling in its familiarity: it’s easy to recognize the fear and uncertainty that drive believers to the Church. Frick’s religion is just mysterious enough to seem otherworldly, while still remaining dependent on money and capitalism to continue its work of preparing everyone for the end times.
Interestingly enough, there’s a strong individualism that is at the core of the Church of America, quite unlike the ideals of most major religions. It’s not about making the community strong, or helping your fellow person. It’s about ensuring your own survival and salvation. It’s about purchasing the kits to save yourself, and the necessary secrecy, and the decision to cut everyone loose to keep yourself afloat. The Church of America is focused on its own survival, and what it has to do to make sure it remains.
The parallels to Vivian’s own journey can be drawn quite easily, and seeing her diverge from that initial pattern is incredibly satisfying. The novel starts with Vivian’s distance from her parents, and her inability to comprehend their choices, which isn’t all that strange at first since she is a teenager. But as the story goes on, the audience realizes that maybe the distance isn’t simply Vivian’s creation, but the work of her parents as well. Should belief separate a family? To paraphrase the Bible, is “father against son, mother against daughter, sibling against sibling?” the only option, or should it be something that brings a family together? Is it about sticking to tradition and a revered text or is it love and compassion?
Vivian’s choice of companions, and choice to have companions, is just the first of many choices that sets her apart from her parents. Her decision to look for the truth, instead of leaving it be and caring only for herself, helps her grow up and know herself. Her beliefs are always questioned, but she learns to trust herself and the people around her, more than her parents were capable of doing in the face of fear. The character development, while well-paced through most of the novel, does wrap up a little abruptly near the end, but it’s strong enough to carry over to the sequel, and I will definitely be joining Vivian on her next road trip.
The Final Say: Katie Coyle asks readers to take a look at Vivian Apple at the End of the World, and dares them to find where they stand and what they believe and hold fast to them, a challenge that will delight and polarize audiences.
Katie Coyle grew up in Fair Haven, New Jersey and has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her short fiction has appeared in One Story, The Southeast Review, Cobalt, and Critical Quarterly. She lives in San Francisco with her husband.