"One week from tomorrow, at precisely 6:11 in the morning, the rapture or apocalypse or Armageddon or whatever else you'd prefer to call it, is going to occur. But only in Goodland, Kansas."
So begins Rob Stennett's hilarious (if not a little preachy) book The End is Now.
I randomly discovered this book on Amazon a few weeks ago and the premise of it intrigued me--a small town in Kansas being the test market for the rapture just sounded like a lot of fun. So I picked up the (at the time) free Kindle edition for my Kindle for PC app and decided to end this month of dystopian/post-apocalyptic mayhem with it. I had no real preconceived notions about it so I went into reading this book with an open mind. And I'm glad that I did. The book is incredibly funny, often laugh-out-loud funny. Stennett does a good job of weaving humor into his story of a small town imploding in on itself as it prepares for the rapture.
The book itself is really about the Henderson family: Jeff, a not-so-successful car salesman; Amy, a stay-at-home mother; Emily, the popularity-obsessed teenager whose only real worry is whether or not she'll be homecoming queen; and Will, an eleven-year-old boy turned reluctant prophet. These four characters remain at the heart of the story, even as Stennett tells the tale from different perspectives. They are the driving force behind everything that happens in the week leading up to the supposed rapture.
It all begins when Will takes a shortcut home through a cornfield and gets lost. He panics, realizing that there's something else in the field with him. That something else speaks to him, telling him that the rapture is coming soon and giving him the three signs to look out for. Will promptly passes out. His disappearance leads to a frantic search by his father and the local police department. When they find him and wake him up, he starts telling them that he has a message for them. And then all hell breaks loose.
I don't want to give too much away because the plot is really well-crafted (for the most part) and I don't want to spoil anything for those who are thinking of reading this book. I do, however, want to discuss a few things about the book: a) the characters; b) the dialogue; c) the fact that there were some parts of this book that made me wish I had a paper copy because I wanted to throw it across the room.
First, the characters. Will is the best character in this book. He's a funny, precocious preteen who is only trying to do what he thinks is best. His convictions are what drive him throughout the story and he is, I think, the most noble character. I have no complaints whatsoever about him and I applaud Stennett for creating such a great little boy. He almost reminds me of Charles Wallace from Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. The other members of the Henderson family, are not as fantastic.
I won't really discuss Jeff, the father, because his change throughout the book is actually pretty fun to watch. Besides, he really didn't do much that annoyed me so he's off the hook. His daughter, Emily, however, is the kind of character that I want to banish from literature forever. She's seventeen and the stereotypical girl. I don't even blame Stennett for her because that's the way she needed to be. It was integral to the story and to her eventual redemption in the eyes of the reader. I will say, though, that if I had to hear her whine one more time about how much she wanted to win homecoming queen or how it was the only thing that would make high school worth the trouble of getting out of bed in the morning, I would have kicked her in the face. If you read the book, I think you'll understand what I mean. I'm not an advocate of abuse against women; quite the opposite in fact. But this girl was just so...gah! There's no other word for it. "Gah" is the appropriate interjection.
Yet it is Amy Henderson, the mother, that takes the prize. She is the, if you'll permit me, homecoming queen of obnoxious. She spends the entire book with a stick up her pious a**, going on and on about how she's better than everyone else because her son's a prophet. She doesn't say it like that, of course, but she seems to think that it is her family's sworn duty to bring the entire town through the rapture and that that excuses all kinds of ridiculous behavior. I didn't really like her to begin with because she's the kind of Christian who thinks things like the following:
- "She wanted the college to be prestigious but not too secular. She'd heard horror stories of her friends' kids going off to college and coming home brainwashed (p. 145-146)."
- (Referring to a girl whose parents often have fights) "...[Amy] said Jane probably would rather have a boy that treated her mean. Will asked why. His mom said because that's what she's used to (p. 179)."
- "Amy had dated a heathen like Jeff. Jeff found God eventually, but when she first started dating him, he was a heathen. Of course Emily would want to date someone godless as well. It was in her genes (p. 230)."
The list could go on and on. She throws out all of Will's Harry Potter books and Power Rangers toys because they're "evil". She made him stay home from school once to keep him from participating in Halloween celebrations. This woman is literally the embodiment of everything that made me sick of Christianity in the first place. (It's like that Ghandi quote: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.") I spent the better part of this book going: "You know lady, if the rapture does happen, I really hope you don't get to go because it would serve you right."
Okay, now that that rant is over, I would like to point out that while Stennett has a remarkable ability for character development, his dialogue can be kind of...eh. Some of it's really good but other bits of it are mediocre at best. A lot of the inner monologues that the characters have are great, especially Will's, but it seems that whenever more than one person is talking they get caught up in unnecessary idle chatter.
Also, as Stennett is a Christian author, there were several bits of this book that were too overly religious for me. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that his beliefs do not fall in line with Amy Henderson's, but even if they don't, there was still quite a bit of "God's plan" and all that and as a non-Christian it got to be a bit much after a while. I think even Christians might be a little put off by it because some of it just pops up randomly and you're left going "Did that really have to be there or were the publishers just like 'need more God; just throw him in somewhere'?" [NOTE: I know someone who was told this exact same thing by a Christian publisher.] Thankfully the book's pacing and plot and practically everything else helped me to ignore a lot of that.
The humor, however, is what really made this book great for me. I know I tend to be a quoter but I can't help it. I love finding quotes in books that will make people want to read them. This book has a ton of them so I have to be kind of choosy.
Batman was the rich kid who had to buy his way into the Super Friends club (p. 12).
To protect against nuclear blasts, teachers had students hide underneath their desks. This was the great plan for safety. Even at the age of eight Mike was pretty skeptical of a small wooden desk's ability to shield him from an atomic bomb (p. 42).
...feeling upset and uneasy, Emily walked away from the believers. She wouldn't go near them again. There was something a little bit funny going on with them. Sure, they seemed friendly, but that was part of their trick. It was the same trick drug dealers and vampires and Mary Kay reps had used for years (p. 97).
He saw his friends' moms (the same kind ladies who had given him rides to soccer practice, the same ladies who insisted that every boy on the team was given a Capri Sun and Fruit Roll Up after a game) turn into soulless creatures as they yelled at each other and cussed and snarled "mine" over all the wonderful deals on electronic merchandise. Will had never seen people act that way, and he learned on that day that every adult was one step away from anarchy (p. 184).Okay, okay, I'll stop. Anyway, you get the picture. It may sound like I have a ton of complaints about this book but, in actuality, I really liked it. I'd probably read it again, although I'd probably buy a paper copy of it because staring at a screen that long gave me a monster headache. This is the first time I've ever read an e-book and it really proved to me that paper is so much more preferable. At least for me.
All right, so to recap: hilarious book, really good plot, some annoying characters, a little bit too much God for my tastes. I'm giving The End is Now three out of five stars. It gets docked a star for Amy being holier-than-thou and another star for the not-so-amazing dialogue and a few noticeable editing issues in the last third of the book. If you read this book for any reason whatsoever, I'd say it should be for Will. You will love this kid to death.
Also, look out for a kid named Neil Pratchett. I'm almost positive that he's a nod at Good Omens. If not, I'm still going to pretend he is because it makes me happy.
PS: The following video reminds me of Mike's quote about "small wooden desks". It's Louis Black talking about air raid drills and, while there's a lot of language in this video, it's still hilarious. Anyone not opposed to the "f-word" needs to watch it. Actually, those opposed to it should too because, let's face it, it's a word. It's not going to kill you. And the video's really funny.