Agnes at the End of the World

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Agnes is a teenager living with her younger sister Beth and other even-younger siblings in a crowded mobile home in Red Creek, a fundamentalist Christian settlement in the desert Southwest modeled somewhat after that described in Carolyn Jessop’s memoir ESCAPED. Their parents live there also, but the mother is severely depressed and stays in a back bedroom being useless, and the father’s primary function is to order them around and lay down the law as he sees it. Heading the whole community is an old geezer revered as a prophet who dominates everybody and everything.

At an early age Agnes had a unique, personal experience where she heard the earth singing. Unfortunately she made the mistake of telling a school teacher that was what God was like, for which the teacher sneered, mocked, and shattered a knuckle on one of Agnes’ hands. After that Agnes kept her mouth shut, and learned to tamp down the “prayer space” that beckoned to her. She is rather a paragon of virtue, taking her mother’s place in raising the kids and keeping the household running. (This is a familiar theme in YA books.) The youngest child, Ezekiel (Zeke), is diabetic, and Agnes routinely sneaks out at night to meet a sympathetic Outsider who brings contraband insulin to her. Although her sister Beth notices and asks about this, Agnes refuses to let her in on the secret because Beth has a big mouth. Beth has her own secret anyway–she sneaks away to meet with the prophet’s cute son Cory, who is next in line for the prophet-ship). The sisters love each other, but these secrets put distance between them.

Everybody is a-waitin’ for The Rapture. Although I have a varied Christian background myself, the concept of the Rapture in this book is sure different from anything I ever heard in my long life. I don’t know if the author misunderstood the idea or if she purposefully twisted it, but I daresay many Christian readers will be thinking, “Huhhhh?”   While waiting for this event, at which time the righteous are saved and everybody else destroyed, the kids frolic around the settlement playing what they call the Apocalyse Game. It’s a real fun place to live.

On the outside of the settlement the world is being wracked by a virus which turns living creatures into red, spiky, shiny, vicious things that eventually are drawn to their own kind to form living “nests.” (This is actually an interesting, creepy idea that could have been better developed.) Civilization is grinding to a halt because of the virus, marauding bands are on the move burning nests (and even whole towns) wherever they find them, finally even cell phone service dies out, so you know things are bad.

Along the way, through many an adventure and misadventure, Agnes rediscovers her prayer space and learns that SHE is the next prophet, that SHE can cure the virus, and that SHE must lead survivors back to Red Creek to establish a whole new colony based on a truer knowledge of “God.”

The story has a decent arc and plot, but some developments are rushed, in particular how quickly Agnes and Beth discard their religious indoctrination. Agnes’ idea of God and revelation and prayer is sure muddled and, again, is likely to leave readers scratching their heads and thinking, “Huhhhh?”

The book has some violence. There’s a mean teacher, a guy who gets run over by a car, a boy whose leg is caught in a steel trap, crazed creatures running at people to infect them, etc.

There is a lot of bad language, not least from Cory, the next-prophet-in-line, who sneaks away to watch TV at a nearby gas station. Surprisingly, characters don’t hesitate to throw Jesus’ name around casually as a swear word. Really, people? Can we not give Jesus a break, especially if you’re preaching kindness and love and the earth singing? He never did a bad thing to anyone, and he held women in high regard, to boot.

OK, I’m off my soapbox. Too bad the author didn’t just write a good thriller about the virus and the nests, etc. The solution was a nice one, but there’s too much muddled-up religious mumbo-jumbo.



Categories: Bullying, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Crime, Diversity, Domestic Abuse in YA Fiction, Dysfunctional Relationships, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Religion, Violence

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