Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review - Vivian Versus the Apocalypse

Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (Vivian Apple #1)
by Katie Coyle
Date: 2013
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 288
Format: e-book
Source: library

A chilling vision of a contemporary USA where the sinister Church of America is destroying lives. Our cynical protagonist, seventeen-­year-­old Vivian Apple, is awaiting the fated 'Rapture' -­ or rather the lack of it. Her evangelical parents have been in the Church's thrall for too long, and she's looking forward to getting them back. Except that when Vivian arrives home the day after the supposed 'Rapture', her parents are gone. All that is left are two holes in the ceiling...

Viv is determined to carry on as normal, but when she starts to suspect that her parents might still be alive, she realises she must uncover the truth. Joined by Peter, a boy claiming to know the real whereabouts of the Church, and Edie, a heavily pregnant Believer who has been 'left behind', they embark on a road trip across America. Encountering freak weather, roving 'Believer' gangs and a strange teenage group calling themselves the 'New Orphans', Viv soon begins to realise that the Rapture was just the beginning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't know if I can express how much I disliked this book.  Maybe it's disappointment coupled with wanting to pull my hair out after reading this painful excuse for a YA dystopian... but if I ever hear about the titular heroine, Vivian Apple, again, it'll be too soon.

Dystopian novels have a lot of promise.  When the horrible events that happen in the real world don't make a lot of sense, sometimes it's helpful to be able to read one of these books and remind ourselves that things could be a whole lot worse.  But when these books aren't done right, they can fail spectacularly... like this one did.

From the moment Vivian returns home the morning after the "Rapture" to find her parents missing -- and two human-sized holes in their bedroom ceiling -- the reader might expect that they're in for a good story.  But that couldn't be further from the truth.  Instead, the reader is treated to a haphazard road-trip sort of story, with characters who pop into and out of the narrative for no particular reason (unless they're some sort of set-up for -- heaven forbid -- a sequel).  And the road-trip portion of the story doesn't even begin until more than a quarter of the way through the book; before that, Vivian just hangs out with her grandparents in New York City, a couple of stodgy old folks who are such staunch atheists that they apparently don't even believe in weather (I don't know how else to explain their refusal to leave the city when a killer hurricane is approaching).

I get that the author was trying to create a dystopian setting in the present-day U.S.A., but I just didn't buy it.  The Church of America is like a cross between the Westboro Baptist Church, the fundamentalist Mormons, and QVC... and it's completely incomprehensible that hundreds of thousands of Americans (including the President) would convert to such an extreme belief system.  I spent the majority of the book thinking that there had to be some sort of mass drugging involved, that the water supply was spiked with some sort of mind-control drug.  But that wasn't the case, and as a result it comes across as pretty insulting to Americans.  Are they really so gullible and stupid as to abandon their previous beliefs, ways of life, and (in some cases) children to follow a misogynist, pro-capitalist religious cult?  I don't think so... at least, not on the scale that is implied here.

I hated the characters in this book.  Vivian is a bland, self-deprecating goody two-shoes, who's also completely clueless, usually figuring things out after everyone else already did.  The rest of the characters aren't much better, mostly because they are inconsistent.  One character could be bemoaning the judgment and condemnation of another character and in the next breath be judging and condemning them with equal vigor.  Vivian's friend, Harp, is especially guilty of this.  She's altogether annoying: inappropriate, bitchy, promiscuous, popping Xanax pills like they're candy, drinking vodka for her nerves, telling Vivian that when a boy says he doesn't want a relationship, he really does:

This morning when he was in the shower, I hurriedly whispered to Harp what he said to me last night, and she rolled her eyes at my despair.

"Girl, please.  Don't you realize what that means?  You're already in.  You just have to make him want it."

If this was two guys talking about a girl, would this "no means yes" crap have made it past the editor?

In addition to all that, there was the fact that it was often difficult to tell the characters apart.  When they spoke, they often sounded the same.  And no fewer than four characters called Vivian by her full name, which was just odd.

The writing and editing in this book was also pretty bad.  I couldn't tell if the book was supposed to be funny or serious.  The subject matter was too serious to be funny, but some of the writing tried so hard to be "literary" that it came across as unintentionally amusing.  Add to that the idioms that weren't quite right ("all of the sudden" was used repeatedly), the weirdness at one point where the author apparently forgot how to use the word "the", the logical inconsistencies (like saying it's May and then implying it's still April... or having moonlight streaming in through a window when it's pouring rain... or being able to see the stars when you're in the midst of a dust storm so thick that you can't see more than a few feet in front of you and you kill an owl with your car), and the characters repeatedly -- and literally -- shrugging their speech, and my inner proofreader was absolutely screaming in frustration.  It really started to fall apart at the halfway mark; I'm not sure if that was because I was getting tired (reading a book you're not enjoying can be exhausting) or if the editor only bothered with the first half of the book.  In any case, the last half was kind of excruciating, with caricature characters, a willy-nilly plot, and weak writing.

I practically wrote a book of snark as I was reading this, making notes in Adobe Digital Editions as I went along.  In fact, I wrote so many notes, I repeatedly crashed the software as I neared the end of the book.  I think that speaks volumes about my impression of Vivian Versus the Apocalypse.

On the plus side, I did learn an important lesson:  Just because a book has won a contest and just because a book has a good rating on Goodreads doesn't mean it's actually good.

Now I know.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 0/5
Pace: 0/5
Writing: 0/5
Editing: 0/5
Originality: 1/5
Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.29 out of 5

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