Reviews > Published on August 4th, 2015

Bookshots: 'Coming of Age at the End of Days' by Alice LaPlante

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Coming of Age at the End of Days

Who wrote it:

LaPlante structures the motivations of her characters carefully, providing literary answers that are both thoughtful and challenging.

Alice LaPlante, author of five other novels, including the award-winning Turn of Mind

Plot in a Box:

Following a desperate search for meaning in life, a depressed teenager turns to a doomsday cult for answers and support.

Invent a new title for this book:

I don't think I'd choose a different title for this book, but if pressed I'd call it The Big One.

Read this if you liked:

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. 

Meet the book's lead:

Anna, a young girl who is having a particularly rough adolescence.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Maybe Chloë Moretz?

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Probably not. The suburban setting in Coming of Age seems extremely lonely, to the extent that it becomes a factor in the main character's depression.

What was your favorite sentence?

Anna has seen that rider. That rider is always in Anna’s mind. Tall and fierce, her body as elongated as her horse’s, as ghostly white.

The Verdict:

Why would anyone willingly join a doomsday cult? For Anna, it’s the only thing that seems capable of dragging her from the mire of depression she’s sunk into. It’s hard to verify this from an outsider’s perspective, but Anna’s depression as LaPlante describes it feels very authentic. There are dark days when she struggles to dress herself and put one foot in front of another. A knocked over tray of tomatoes at the grocery store fills her with disproportionate anger and hopelessness. LaPlante skillfully builds a protagonist whose decisions spring from a deep apathy for her surroundings. 

Coming of Age paints a surreal profile of suburban California where religious groups worship in abandoned malls and Laundromats, and where modern Silicon Valley clashes oddly with the apocalyptic visions of dark prophets. When Anna begins dreaming of a cryptic Red Heifer, her neighbor Lars convinces her to attend a church meeting. What she learns about the Rapture excites her, breaks her out of the doldrums of depression for the first time in months. Having grown up where neighbors never speak and her parents rarely touch, the religious community offers her a feeling of connection to other people. 

The conflict between the mundane and the spiritual is a continuous theme throughout. Anna turns to religion for its grandiose visions of martyrs and horsemen, of battles and a kind of valor that seems all but vanished from modern society. Her fantasies appear easy to dismiss— at least, on the surface. But LaPlante wisely contends that most humans seek a form of enlightenment in one way or another. With Anna’s mother it’s through music, and with her father it manifests in an obsession with earthquakes.

After all, as Anna points out when her views are questioned, aren’t we all waiting for the end of the world? Maybe it’s brought about through global warming or divine retribution, but the inevitable outcome is basically the same.

I picked up Coming of Age at the End of Days in part because I wanted to understand how anyone could become so dedicated to such an extreme dogma, and the psychological maneuvering that Anna undergoes offers a vivid portrayal of exactly that. LaPlante structures the motivations of her characters carefully, providing literary answers that are both thoughtful and challenging.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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