Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen — 320 pgs

Ten year old Judith McPherson has a secret. Inside the walls of her room lies a city which she has built from discarded rubbish—a city that mimics the one that she and her father live in. Judith’s life is just shy of chaotic. Her mother died in childbirth with her and her father is a factory worker whose belief system is firmly entrenched within an obscure Christian sect that believes the end is near. Judith must help her father and the other believers canvas the neighborhood each week and let them know that the apocalypse is near. Things are also unstable for Judith at school, as another of the factory worker’s sons has taken to mercilessly bullying her. When there is no intervention from her teacher or her father, Judith begins to pray. And God answers. God implies to Judith that her little city is rife with possibilities, and as Judith begins to adjust the dolls and structures in her city, strange things begin happening. At first Judith is ebullient, believing that God has given her a gift to manifest miracles. But soon, very bad situations begin to arise, and God seems to care very little. As Judith makes more and more miracles happen, she discovers that the perfect life is not always easy to create and that this God that is speaking to her may not be who she thinks he is. As her life swings between dramatic plunges of pathos and wellsprings of hope, Judith seeks to undo the changes she has made to her world. But can she ever really be free of the people and situations that haunt her? And just who is this voice inside her head that seems just as comfortable with peace as he is with destruction?

This is a book that is hard to fit into any genre box. While at first it seems to be about faith, the reader slowly becomes aware that this great power that has been bestowed upon Judith is in fact a terrible curse. Judith makes moves that are designed to create stability in her world, and by acting, she sets a chain of events into motion that cannot be stopped. While I was reading, I became intensely aware of how deeply psychologically disturbing the story actually was. Judith goes from being publicly teased to having her family become privately tortured as she seeks to gain control of a force that is terrifying and malignant. A quiet and reflective child, Judith becomes heady with excitement over her “miracles,” but before she even realizes what’s happening, her world becomes littered with violence and anger.

One of the most intense aspects of this book was the relationship that Judith has with her father. He is both commanding and responsible, but never loving or gentle. The young girl strives so desperately to make her father love her, but this task seems momentous. He is silent when Judith needs him to be loud. He is broken when she needs him to be whole. All this she knows and states baldly and without emotion. Judith’s father doesn’t love her. Or does he? From the point of view of the child he seems emotionally very distant and cold, but it’s easy for the adult reader to acknowledge that Judith’s father is still grieving over the loss of his wife and sees Judith as a reminder. As the child tries to form and shape a new reality, her goal of making her father truly see her without ambivalence is brought to light again and again.

The city in Judith’s room is perfect. There are no boys named Neil putting snot in her hair or calling her nasty names. There is no hatred nor malice, and no religious exclusion. It’s her utopia. But when Judith is finally pushed to the edge, she begins to wish for some dangerous things that are designed to bring retribution but end up bringing wrath upon herself and her father. And as the tale begins to twist from a fairylike dream of magic and miracles to something more dark and sinister, Judith begins to change too. She manifests a series of behaviors that, while not uncommon for an unloved and bullied child, are so drastically unlike herself that the danger she’s in spits up from the page right into the reader’s face. Judith’s pain is alive and well, and she begins to twist her world into something quite dark indeed.

This was a very dark but satisfying read, and one that left me feeling like I had been right there with Judith through every miracle and repercussion, making images of light from the darkness and treading the very thin ice that she’s found herself stranded upon. It made me think very deeply about the mind of a child and what impressions can be made upon it. If you’re up for a read that will challenge your sensibilities on the differences between saints and sinners, this is surely a read that will pack a punch for you. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

21 comments:

Nymeth said...

Excellent review as usual! I read this earlier this year but sadly I just couldn't get into it :\ I think it was something about Judith's voice that rang false to me. But it could easily just have been the wrong time for me, as this is the sort of book I think I'd normally have really liked.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Most reviews of this one have been glowing (if you can apply that word to a book this dark). Kind of a dichotomy when the cover looks so bright and happy. I'm going to do a little sniffing around and see if our library has this.

bermudaonion said...

Judith sounds like a fabulously tortured character and her father sounds like a character I'd want to choke. This sounds great!

Wall-to-wall books said...

Well this book certainly does sound interesting, unlike any other book I've read.
I might have to add this to my "we'll see" list.

TheBookGirl said...

Wonderful review Heather. I read this a while ago, and remember being fascinated by the narrative voice that the author created. Though I did think the book was very good, parts of the bullying episodes were really hard for me to read and I found myself quite depressed at the end -- for that reason, I was hesitant to recommend it to others.

Ti said...

This little world she creates is fascinating to me. From your review, I can tell that she is a tortured soul. Ten is so young to be so troubled.

Wonderful review.I love that you gave us the tone without giving away any of the secrets.

Brooke said...

I have a fascination with father/daughter relationships - especially the not-so-pretty ones. Sounds like this one will fit the bill. Really spectacular review.

Darlene said...

Great review Heather. I have this one in my stacks and can't wait to read it. Maybe we cn talk about it after I have!

Alyce said...

It does sound unusual. With that description I first thought it was either going to be a religious book or a "exiting from religion" book, but this seems almost paranormal with the miraculous powers. I'm not sure it's something that I would like, but it definitely looks unique.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I agree with Kathy! Sounds like I would be too mad and sad for this one!

Jenners said...

Yours is the second review that made this seem like a can't miss book … and here I was dumb and passed on it when I could have gotten a free copy. Oh well … time to spend a little money!

geosi said...

Wonderful review, you capture most important parts of the book that makes me want to go for it.

Athira said...

This is a new-to-me book and it sounds intriguing! I can only imagine what it was like for Judith. Great review, as usual!

nomadreader said...

Oooh: dark and satisfying? That's right up my alley! I have this one on my Kindle and need to make time for it.

softdrink said...

This is the first time I've heard of this book. It sounds trippy. Which means I'd probably like it.

Lisa said...

Wow. Beautiful cover that definitely doesn't give a clue as to the depth and interest of this book. Thanks for introducing it to me!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Oh, my goodness. This sounds incredible and eye opening. I'm putting this on my TBR list; as always, Heather, you have such a gift with explaining why you like a book, and even though this one may be dark, and while books about bullied children can be tough, I think I do want to read this one.

Literary Feline said...

Oh wow. This sounds like something I would really like.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Glad to see that you enjoyed this one; I did as well. Hope your summer has some fun in store. (1/2 over)

Jules said...

From the summary of the book, it doesn't seem to be a deep and dark read. But it seems to have a lot of layers to it. Not sure if it's a book for me, but it does sound like it worked well for you.

Buried In Print said...

I agree that much of the novel's intensity comes from the relationship between Judith and her father: how complicated, how credible. From the cover image (the Canadian version has little bobs and doodads from the land of decoration -- wasn't that just the best part of the story, how she created all of that?), I was expecting something a little lighter, but it definitely has, as you've said, a dark side to it. More and more so, as the pages turn.

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