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Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (Vivian Apple at the End of the World): Book Review

September 18, 2013
Katie, your book looks fabulous on my nightstand, next to Harry Potter.

What’s the highest praise you can bestow upon a book?

Until recently, my answer might have been “I often think about it when times are rough” or “it made me cry, but in the best possible way.” Of course that was before I read Katie Coyle’s Vivian Versus the Apocalypse. That’s when the highest praise became “this book was so well-written, the story so absorbing, that I forgot it was written by someone I know.”

Now, I don’t know-know Katie in the olden meaning of the word (nor in the Biblical sense, obviously); I know her through the power of the Internet. We “met” on a certain lady-slanted website back in 2007 or 2008 and migrated to another place at around the same time. For those of you who speak Internet and know how quickly time passes in that strange place – with memes rising and falling within days, sometimes hours – it should be clear that I’ve “known” Katie for a lifetime in Internet years. So of course I was beyond excited when she announced she was participating in the Hot Key Books 2012 Young Writers Prize, and I was ecstatic when she was announced the winner in her book’s age category.

I read it the day after it became available on Amazon: one half on Friday, one half on Saturday. I could have read this book – and finished it – well into the night, and I was sorely tempted, but in the end I chose to savor the experience.

The book opens on a party scene, the night before the Rapture (which was foretold by Pastor Frick of the powerful Church of America). Vivian is at a Rapture’s Eve party hosted by her best friend, Harp (Harpreet Janda). As the girls banter, flapper-style, it quickly becomes clear that Harp is the boisterous, outgoing friend (every friendship has one, in varying degrees), while Vivian has so far been okay with a quiet, make-no-waves kind of life. The threat of the Rapture, even though she doesn’t believe in it, however, has her left wanting… more. After a distinctly failuresque encounter with a boy with the bluest eyes, non-religious Vivian prays “Dear Universe, […] Make me less meek, make me less afraid. Dear Universe, make me the hero of my own story.”

And though gods may not be real, the universe certain is, because Vivian’s prayer is answered in every possible way. After going home the morning after the party and discovering two holes in the ceiling over her parents bed, she is swept up in a storm of post-Rapture chaos. What follows is, in many ways, a classic coming of age story. Under the threat of end to life and/or personhood, Vivian embarks on a literal journey of self-discovery, traversing the United States in search of an explanation of her parents’ fate (and that of thousands of others).

Luckily, Vivian does not have to negotiate the dangerous, pre-apocalyptic world of Left Behinds (those not raptured) and New Orphans (the children of the raptured), together with the new believers, alone; she is accompanied by Harp – due to circumstances no longer as innocently boisterous – and Peter – mysterious, but not painfully YA-cliche broody. Together, they deal with the alluring siren call of faux-comfort, the painful reality of hate crime, the agony of abandonment, and – crucially – the evil of drum circles.

When did my reading transition from “OMG KATIE WROTE THIS” to “OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE KATIE WROTE THIS” to “OMG THIS STORY”? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but it was around the time when we first start seeing the corporate face of the Church of America.

The food is all Church of America brand; in addition to the founding of the Church itself, Frick was the CEO of its accompanying multi-million dollar corporation. They publish the magazines and run the Church television networks, and they produce end-of-the-world provisions like these–bottles of Holy Spring Water, bland Spaghetti-Os knock-offs called Christ Loops. (23)

Vivian’s America, despite its fictional nature, started ringing frightfully true (in a dystopian Margaret Atwood-esque way*). Of course a powerful American church would be corporate-minded. Of course nothing good could ever come from dealing with such an organization. Yet, in a way, it does. The Church of America’s actions catalyze the universe answering Vivian’s prayer: she becomes, while tripping over her metaphorical feet and falling on her figurative face more than once, not the heroine (ugh) but the hero of her own story. And she discovers, in the process, that both becoming and being a hero are painful, sometimes excruciating, often awkward, yet ultimately fulfilling states.

So do yourself a favor and run on over to your local Amazon to get your very own copy now. Or order through Hot Key Books!

*I’m not the first one to draw Margaret Atwood parallels. For more detail, go here.

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