At last! A book I can talk about without giving away spoilers!
This novel is set in modern day America, and is about a girl named Vivian Apple; she was a normal girl attending highschool, she’s quiet and studious, had good friends and got on with her parents. Then The Church of America rises in prominence when Pastor Beaton Frick predicts that its most faithful believers will ascend to heaven in 3 years time, and the remaining people on Earth will be subjected to six months of hell, followed by complete oblivion. In the early days after this proclamation, the Church has few followers, and the idea seems rather silly, but as time passes devastating events begin to take place: earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the sudden extinction of the bee population. As the deadline for the Rapture gets closer Vivian finds that more and more people are Believers, including her own parents.
As the church becomes more powerful the Frick Bible is referred to as a guide to acceptable behaviour; Alcohol is forbidden, homosexual people will not be tolerated, women must behave and dress modestly, and any female believed to be promiscuous or flirtatious will be “magdalened”. Whereas before, Vivian would have been described as a good girl, the increase of belief in the Church of America, and it’s rise to power causes her to rebel.
Vivian’s parents try to get her to attend the church with them, but the lessons of the Frick bible seem so inherently wrong to her that she finds herself drawn to the types of people that the bible forbids contact with. Vivian’s parents distance themselves from their daughter when it becomes clear that she does not share their beliefs, and start to store tinned foods and other items they feel are necessary for Vivian’s survival, for when they ascend. Vivian’s parents still love her, but they absolutely believe that she is damned.
On Rapture’s Eve, Vivian is attending a party thrown by her friend Harp; the party goers are behaving as though it is a New Year’s Eve party, but Vivian is conflicted, and for one horrifying minute allows herself to believe that it could be the end of the world.
The next morning Vivian goes back to her parents house and finds them missing; in their bedroom, on the ceiling above their bed there are two holes in the ceiling. News reports show that 5,000 people have gone missing in eerily similar circumstances.
Believers in The Church of America are stunned, as they believed over 500,000 of them would ascend, and they are hurt and angered that they have been left behind. The conclusion is that tolerance for non-believers, heterosexuals, promiscuous women etc has prevented them from ascending; a new interpretation of the Frick bible encourages its followers that there may be a second ascension in 6 months time, if they are devout and truly believe. As extreme weather and other dramatic events increase, more and more people become Believers, and it becomes very dangerous for non-believers to walk around in public, as in their desperation not to be left behind this time around, the Believers show that they will do anything to prove their belief.
Vivian still has doubts about the ascension, and with her friend Harp sets off across the country to find out what really happened to her parents.
I found this novel to be really disturbing, it shows how powerful and corrupting belief can be; an almost mass hysteria seems to take over and formerly peaceful neighbours turn on each other. The experiences of Vivian and Harp are truly horrifying, I can’t say more than that, but as I was reading I thought about what I would do if this was happening where I live. Ofcourse we are living in a world where religious fundamentalism and terrorism do exist, but I think it is really interesting that in this story it is a Christian fundamentalist group. Throughout history many wars have been fought over religious beliefs, and you would think that in this day and age it would be possible to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, even if they are not beliefs that you share. In this novel, the followers of the Church of America are absolute in their belief that non-believers prevented them from ascending to heaven, and they don’t want to get left behind the second time around.
This novel really made me think about what I would do if I truly believed the world was about to end (and not in an idle, if there was a zombie outbreak how would we survive way – who hasn’t done that?); I’m quite a sceptical person, so I would like to think I would still be tolerant of other people, and would probably be trying to find out what was going on, but I wouldn’t really be sure unless I was in that situation…