Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle
Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary / Apocalyptic
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Synopsis: Vivian Apple never believed in the Church of America – unlike her fanatical parents. And as for the so-called impending ‘Rapture’, she knew she’d believe that when she saw it. But then Vivian wakes one day to a New World, and all that’s left of her parents are two empty spaces. The Believers have been taken, it seems. And for those left behind, the world is a desolate and eerie place. All Vivian has now are her memories and her volatile friend Harp.
Faced with a society on the brink of collapse, Vivian and Harp embark on a journey across America, in search of any family they have left, and determined to expose the truth about the Rapture. Three thousand miles through floods, fog and heat waves, Harp and Vivian and a boy with the bluest eyes and the kindest heart are driving on to their future.
But will this be a coming-of-age road trip with no return?
I received this book from The Willoughby Book Club last year when I had a subscription for three months. I have to say, they’re really great at finding books that are right up your street. And whilst I’ve only given this book three stars, it’s definitely one that could have been five stars if it had only been executed better. It’s apocalyptic, after all, and we all know that’s my favourite.
The premise of Vivian Versus the Apocalypse is certainly an intriguing and original one. Despite my love for all things apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, I haven’t read an apocalyptic novel revolving around religion before. The idea in this is, obviously, that the Armageddon is closing in and God will be taking all of his believers to Heaven and leaving everyone else to perish in fire and brimstone.
From the get go, Vivian is extremely sceptical of this ‘Rapture’, as it’s called. But then, the morning after ‘Rapture’s Eve’, she returns home to find her parents gone. What ensues is an America falling into disarray, environmental disasters and the law being taken into people’s own hands. Sounds like a great story, right?
Well, yes and no. As I said, this is an excellent idea, but there were quite a few flaws. Character inconsistencies, plot holes, okay writing and a dull romance bogged down the pace of an otherwise good idea.
So let’s start with the characters. Our heroine is Vivian Apple, your typical YA Contemporary Plain Jane with a weird name. A self-confessed goody-two-shoes, Vivian at least has a redeeming factor in that her intelligence wins out over her rule-following persona, meaning she doesn’t subscribe to the archaic and damaging views of the Church of America and its leader, Beaton Frick.
However, a part of me wonders if the story would have been more interesting if goody-two-shoes Vivian, who has never rebelled until going against her parents and being a Non-Believer, had actually been a Believer at the beginning of the book and forced to confront the harsh realities of her corrupt religion. I found it a little hard to believe that a girl so intent on ‘being good’ would go against her beloved parents and not follow their religion, at least out of a sense of duty rather than actually subscribing to it.
Vivian’s inconsistencies are why I struggled to connect with her right from the beginning. She spends much of the book going back and forth between differing views and I really couldn’t put my finger on who she was, other than being a bit boring. Normally a 1st person narrative makes it easier to connect to the character, but there was nothing special about Vivian’s voice. In addition, Vivian’s attempts to rebel seemed more like childish outbursts to me, not the signs of a girl growing into a strong woman.
Other characters include Vivian’s ‘best friend’ of a few months, Harp. Harp was annoying and selfish for much of the book. She redeemed herself somewhat towards the end (as did Vivian a little when she actually showed some real guts at one point, rather than throwing a childish fit), but I was still never enamoured with Harp. Which was a shame because she was the only POC in the book, along with her older brother Raj. However, we never saw much of Raj, who felt more like the token gay POC there to add a little diversity and further the plot (or rather, not really further it because he’s forgotten about pretty quick).
Then there’s Peter, ‘the boy with the bluest eyes and the kindest heart’, who was dull dull dull and nothing else.
The one character I did like, however, was Edie. She had much more personality than the other characters. She was kind, a little dippy, and genuinely interesting.
But after moaning about the characters and their lack of development, what about the plot? As I said before, it was a great idea, it just wasn’t executed well. There were quite a few plot holes and loose ends that were never tied up (although they may be tied up in the sequel). For example, after the Rapture, we learn that only a small proportion of Believers were actually Raptured. However, America seems to fall into chaos. Suddenly, the police don’t exist. People are vandalising and even murdering. It just didn’t add up.
Then there was the romance, which was pretty lacklustre and Vivian’s pining was a bit annoying when she should be focussing on more pressing stuff like where the hell have her parents actually gone?! I felt the romance was unnecessary to the plot, but thankfully there was no instalove.
However, the plot and pace were redeemed somewhat by some reasonably good twists in the latter portion of the novel. A few I didn’t really see coming and, though they weren’t totally shocking, they were still an interesting surprise.
Yet after all this moaning, there were some other positives. For starters, the novel raised some interesting questions around religion and religious extremism that I thought were refreshing and thought-provoking. It definitely held up a mirror to some of America’s archaic Christian values and showed just how backwards these views can look to the rest of the world.
The novel also addressed the issue of family and how you don’t have to love someone just because they’re blood, as well as the idea that whilst your parents may not have anything inherently wrong with them, like suffering with addiction or being abusive, they can still fail you. I think this is something that isn’t addressed much in YA. Normally the parents are loving but conveniently on the sidelines of the story to allow the protagonist to do crazy things.
Also, the writing was okay. It wasn’t anything special, and it could be quite corny at times, especially with some dialogue, but it was perfectly reasonable and got the main points across. In addition, the novel was an interesting mix of Contemporary and Apocalyptic Thriller. The story kept me engaged enough to want to keep reading. It felt like it was trying to be the next How I Live Now but Coyle didn’t have the same finesse as Rosoff to pull it off.
Overall, it was definitely an interesting idea, but it was let down by plot holes and relatively bland characters. I know there’s a sequel, and I think I will pick it up in the future to see where the story goes, but not anytime soon. I have to say though, I do seem to be in the minority here with my mixed feelings on the novel. The vast majority of people seem to have enjoyed this book, so I think it’s still worth a go if you’re interested in it.
Have you read Vivian Versus the Apocalypse? Did you enjoy it or not? Do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!