Vivian versus the apocalypse by Katie Coyle

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Hot Key Books, 2013. ISBN 9781471402173.
(Age 15+) Highly recommended. 2012 Guardian/Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize. Dystopian fiction. Cults. Religion. Road trips. Seventeen year old Vivian Apple returns home to find two holes in her parents' ceiling. They have disappeared in the Rapture. Worthy members of the Church of America have saved, and her parents appear to be part of that group of Believers. However Vivian begins to believe that they are alive somewhere, and as the weather begins to create chaos, and the Believers become dangerous, she and her friend Harp are joined by Peter and a heavily pregnant Edie on a mission to find them.
This is a compulsively clever, engrossing read that I had to finish in one sitting, and really worthy of being a co-winner of the Guardian/Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize, with Joe Ducie, the author of The rig. Quite unique in its plot, Coyle plunges the reader into a world where religious fundamentalism has taken over and everyone is expected to obey the dictates of the Church of America's leader, Frick. Vivian is cynical about the religion and had always doubted the advent of the Rapture and can hardly believe that her parents have left her alone to fend for herself. Armed with a sledgehammer and accompanied by her friends, she embarks on a thrilling road trip across America to the place where Peter believes the Church is located. On the way they encounter bad weather and a strange group called the New Orphans, whose commune life is strangely appealing.
This is not your usual dystopian novel, with a strong female protagonist and a gorgeous boy romance. While Vivian is feisty, she questions her beliefs and those of the people around her. She is not perfect but her coming of age is central to the novel and she is not afraid to take action and responsibility for those actions. The characters of Harp, Peter and Edie are equally well portrayed and the road trip sees them growing as individuals as well. There is some love interest but Vivian's growth towards adulthood is more important than romance.
Coyle does not shy away from social commentary in this novel. With witty remarks and wry humour, the reader is often lead along a path of thinking about society and what makes it hold together. The themes of fundamental religion, peer pressure, advertising, parental responsibility and nature versus nurture are ones to ponder long after reading this novel.
This would be a wonderful class novel or literature circle book. It is not too long at 288 pages and is a compulsive read that would be sure to appeal to a teenage audience. Readers could then be led to the dystopian novels of authors such as Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and George Orwell.
Pat Pledger