This one is a little different. I'm going to discuss two books (both titles in a two-part series).
Imagine it: the end times. You wake up one morning to discover that your family is gone and that person-sized holes have been punched into the ceiling above their beds. I mean...you'd be pretty freaked out, right?
In Katie Coyle's Vivian Apple at the End of the World, our protagonist faces this exact predicament. In the months leading up to the "Rapture," the Church of America and its founder, Beaton Frick, have whipped much of the country into a frenzy of religious fervor. The extremely conservative (and shockingly monetized) church requires all women to be chaste, true believers to adhere to strict rules, and bans all homosexuality. Vivian has never been interested in the Church; her parents have. So, when she returns from her friend Harp's Rapture's Eve party, she finds that her parents are gone and the ceiling in their bedroom has a pair of new skylights.
On her own in a world that increasingly believes that the end of days has arrived, Vivian first tries living with her prickly maternal grandparents. In their ritzy Manhattan apartment, she discovers that her mother's life before she married Vivian's father was pretty complicated. She also discovers that she has a half sister she's never known.
Determined to find her sister and start a new life, Vivian sets out on a cross-country journey with Harp (and a cute but mysterious new boy). Their journey takes them first to the headquarters of a group calling themselves The New Orphans, then to the home of an old teacher, and finally to California where they find that not only is the Rapture not what it seems, but neither is Vivian's family.
The story continues in Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle. The narrative picks up where End of the World left off: Vivian and Harp are on their own in San Francisco. They get help from unexpected sources and suddenly realize they've fallen into helping a secret militia intent on taking down the Church of America. It should be everything they've been hoping for--but, it isn't. Instead, Vivian must grapple with her desire to do the right thing while those she loves keep falling under the spell (or the thrall) of the Church of America. Ultimately, though, it is Vivian and Harp (an amazing friendship written with heart and honesty) who must do what they can to save the country from the corruption of the Church and those who will do anything to keep the farce going.
I really enjoyed both of these titles. Vivian is a sharp, funny, and very well-formed hero. Even her dicey decisions seem realistic. After all, she is only a teenager. What stands out most here, though, is her friendship with Harp and their undying devotion to one another. They refuse to abandon or give up on one another. It's a realistic and mighty friendship and it's genuinely refreshing to read novels that focus their attention on a teen girl friendship as opposed to a traditional romance (although, of course, there's still a little romance).
I would recommend these titles to those who like strong women protagonists, apocalyptic/end of the world narratives, those who suffered through the Left Behind series and are looking for something a bit more interesting, and/or anyone who enjoyed the titles below:
My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins