First-time authors created quite a stir in 2011 and the trend seems to be continuing this year with Grace McCleen’s impressive debut book The Land of Decoration.
The book is narrated by Judith McPherson, a 10-year-old girl of above-average intelligence who is being raised by her religious, yet remote father. Judith has no friends at school and is routinely mocked, shoved and otherwise physically abused. The world does not have much to offer to her so she builds her own.
Judith is trying to find where she belongs in this world. She longs to feel her father’s love as evidenced by one of the passages in the book: “There was one day when I thought father loved me. On that day father and I walked hand in hand for eleven miles.”
Of course, that’s only because the McPhersons belong to the Brothers, a sect that studies the Bible daily and walks door to door to warn people of the coming of Armageddon. “It’s a good thing Armageddon is coming,” Judith says, “because polar bears are starving and trees are dying and if you put a plastic bag in the earth it will never go away. And because in the new world I will see my mother.”
Using her unique understanding of her religion, Judith finds solace in her room where she creates a miniature re‑creation of the land of milk and honey (which she believes will come after Armageddon) out of bits of nature and trash. Mountains are made of papier-mâché, rivers of cling film, seas from mirrors and houses from cartons. When Judith begins to be tormented by a bully at school, she prays for snow so that she will have to miss school. When it does snow, she is convinced she has the power to create miracles but Judith soon discovers that having power may not be as desirable as she once thought.
While the initial pages might make one feel that the book is for children, this is not case. In fact, the plain style and short chapters rather enhance Judith’s innocence and dramatise her view of the world.
The Land of Decoration is philosophically sophisticated but is also something that everyone can relate to. Judith becomes a friend, a character to root for throughout the book. Twists of evil infused with goodness provide dimension to the tale. The result is a powerful story that will leave you thinking.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 5th, 2012.
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