Every summer, I sign up for SYNC, which offers two free audiobooks each week of the summer, usually a mix of contemporary teen/YA novels, nonfiction (often in a similar theme to their fiction pick), and some classics, too. One of my downloads from SYNC this summer was Vivian Apple At the End of the World by Katie Coyle, and I finally found time to listen to it last month. I enjoyed this intriguing and unique post-apocalyptic take on religious extremism.
Seventeen year-old Vivian lives in a world like ours, except that one religious zealot has successfully taken over a good-sized portion of the U.S. population. Beaton Frick started the Church of America after supposedly being spoken to by God and writing the Book of Frick. As a self-styled prophet who believes America is God’s favored land, he gains many thousands of followers. Frick predicts that there will be a Rapture on a certain March day, followed by an Armageddon six months later. Followers, including Vivian’s parents, faithfully prepare, while non-believers ignore the dire predictions. Vivian and her best friend, Harp, attend a Rapture’s Eve party the night before the predicted event. Everyone has a good laugh at midnight.
However, when Vivian returns home from Harp’s the next morning, her parents are gone, and there are two burned-out people-sized holes in their bedroom ceiling. All over the country, the same thing is happening, with people discovering loved ones are missing. Thousands are gone…but not even close to all of the believers. Many take the missing people as proof that Frick is right and begin to prepare for the predicted end of the world. Others – believers left behind and quick converts – hopefully prepare for a second Rapture event that is rumored to be coming. Vivian and Harp (whose parents are also gone) don’t know quite what to do, but within days, the outside world starts to become a frightening, foreign place.
Eventually, Vivian and Harp set out on a cross-country road trip, based on some slim hypotheses that California might be the center of what’s going on, with some stops planned along the way to see distant family. Joining them is a boy their age named Peter, whom Vivian met at the Rapture’s Eve party. As the three of them travel across the U.S., from Pittsburgh to California, they see some very scary things. Religious extremism – and with it extreme intolerance – takes over, now that there is some “proof” behind it. They encounter lots of other people: some who help them, some who want to harm them, and others like themselves just trying to stay safe. As they travel, the predicted date of Armageddon draws closer.
I really enjoyed this unique book that combines a post-apocalyptic feeling (even though the apocalypse hasn’t quite happened yet) with a classic road trip, while delving into issues of friendship, family, extremism, and intolerance. As with the best dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, it is frightening because you can see elements of our own society in this made-up world and imagine that this just might really happen with the right set of conditions. Along the way, there are lots of plot twists and surprises to keep things moving and interesting. I enjoyed listening to this original story on audio and, though the story wraps up in some ways, I am eager to read the sequel!
288 pages, HMH Books for Young Readers
Audio book from Dreamscape Media
(click on the Amazon link below, then on the Audible version, for an audio sample)