Cannonball Read 6, Book 20: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

13064606This book was on many Best lists in the year it was published. Published two years after Room, it would be tough not to say Donoghue’s utterly excellent novel didn’t influence McCleen, as here we are with another narrator who also happens to be a damaged child with no concept of the real world she happens to live in. There though, all comparisons end. Judith’s mother died shortly after giving birth to her and she has been raised by her father alone. As devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judith and her father spend their weekends knocking on doors and telling people to prepare for the End  of the World. What free time she has, Judith spends building a model of the titular Land, where the believers end up after Armageddon. Badly bullied at school, Judith spends one weekend praying she can stay off school on Monday. She makes it snow in her model Land. On the Monday morning, it’s snowed so much overnight that schools are closed. Judith believes she’s made a miracle happen. And from there, things only get worse.

Anyone who was ever bullied at school for being different (I think that’s pretty much everyone, no?), will find something to identify with in poor innocent Judith. It also makes it quite a tough read in places. Judith is clearly damaged by her upbringing (her father made no secret of holding her responsible for her mother’s death, for example) and so indoctrinated to her religion that she very much cannot see the wood for the trees and you desperately want her to. McCleen writes in a clipped, straightforward, no-nonsense style, in short chapters, which makes this a very quick read. But, as I said earlier, not an easy one.

As Judith’s quest for miracles continues, her father’s life starts to come off the rails. They’re both persecuted by bullies, Judith at school, her father at work. They both start to become mentally affected by the persecution, with Judith believing she’s having conversations with God, as well as being guided by him in her creation of miracles. The way Judith relates all the events though, she can’t see how wrong everything is going, and there’s something horribly unsettling in how you observe these two lives coming apart at the seams in such a detached style. Eventually, everything in her life has broken apart so much that Judith finally sees the wood among the trees and thinks there’s only one way she can fix things.

And believe me when I tell you, you will fervently be wishing there’s a happy ending waiting for Judith and her poor damaged father at the end of this brief, brilliant novel. McCleen breaks your heart for them over and over again throughout the book and makes you root for them as much as she makes you want to smack them upside the head on occasion (her father  more than Judith on that score). Whether or not they get the happy ending is something you’ll need to read the book to find out. Although, when you’ve finished, you may still not be too sure about just how happy an ending it really is.

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