Ellis is a 16.5-year-old growing up in a Mormon family in Berkeley CA. She has one younger sister and a regular home life, though as with all imperfect people everywhere her parents, especially her mother, have made some missteps with her. Ellis has an unlabeled anxiety disorder and has been in therapy since the age of eight. She is prone to constant negative self-talk and fixates on the idea that she must prepare to and then save her family from disaster of all kinds. She stockpiles food, water, and all kinds of preparedness items, refuses to learn to drive (what if she hits and kills someone?), and, in general, has driven the rest of her family to extreme exasperation and frustration.
Leaving her therapist’s office one day, she accidentally meets another patient, a high school classmate named Hannah. Hannah tracks her down in following days and announces they are going to be friends, that she knows when the world is going to end, and she shares dreams about it that suck Ellis into belief insofar that Ellis designs a scheme to Alert The World. The plot continues along in a satisfactorily-constructed way to a climax, at which point Ellis discovers that Hannah has been lying to her in order to get her to help locate her missing, mentally-ill brother. [There are a number of characters with mental illness in this book.]
Ellis briefly rises out of her negative, disaster-head thinking patterns only to be plunged back into them through a chance comment from a new boyfriend. In crisis, she commandeers the PA system at her school and announces the end of the world. Luckily for her, a lot of her classmates seem to think it is a big prank. Her horrified parents know better and ship her off temporarily to family in another state. There only a short time, Ellis escapes back to California and makes her way to a meeting point “foretold” by Hannah for the day the world would end. Interesting developments show how “a” world does end, in literal ways Hannah predicted, with brief discussion about whether the girls themselves caused the events to occur rather than merely serve as dumb witnesses to Fate. This is good plotting by the writer.
Some things about this book don’t ring true. Ellis is persuaded a little too easily in the beginning of the book that Hannah knows anything, especially when the world will end. Hannah introduces Ellis to friends of hers and they hang out in a local stoner park. Her parents understandably flip out when they learn about this and ground her, but somehow for the next 200 pages or so she is still able to spend large chunks of time at the park and wander around elsewhere with her new friends.
The author gets many details about Mormon practices and culture right, and is not explicitly disrespectful. It IS surprising, though, that the predominant offensive language in the book consists of repeated exclamations of “Jesus!” or “Jesus Christ!”, and not in a, uh, worshipful way. Ellis plainly does not understand or grasp fully some fundamental concepts. As a result, in the end she honors her cultural association with the church but chooses to identify with secular belief structures regarding gender identity, sexuality, etc. You get the feeling perhaps the author is working out her own disaffiliation in these pages.
The characters are rather underdeveloped, but they are likeable. At the end of the book you feel Ellis, despite her proclamations to her church congregation, may have achieved a temporary peace, but she has a long way to go before really conquering her problems. I can’t say I believe her journey, or that of her friends, is going to shed clarity on readers’ issues.
The language and relative morality (is that term still used?) of this book will make it a poor purchase for conservative communities.
Categories: Controversial YA Topics, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Religion