Published by Candlewick Press on April 14th, 2015
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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Tackling faith, doubt, and transformation, National Book Award winner Pete Hautman explores a boy’s unraveling allegiance to an insular cult.
Twelve square miles of paradise, surrounded by an eight-foot-high chain-link fence: this is Nodd, the land of the Grace. It is all seventeen-year-old Jacob knows. Beyond the fence lies the World, a wicked, terrible place, doomed to destruction. When the Archangel Zerachiel descends from Heaven, only the Grace will be spared the horrors of the Apocalypse. But something is rotten in paradise. A wolf invades Nodd, slaughtering the Grace’s sheep. A new boy arrives from outside, and his scorn and disdain threaten to tarnish Jacob’s contentment. Then, while patrolling the borders of Nodd, Jacob meets Lynna, a girl from the adjoining ranch, who tempts him to sample the forbidden Worldly pleasures that lie beyond the fence. Jacob’s faith, his devotion, and his grip on reality are tested as his feelings for Lynna blossom into something greater and the End Days grow ever closer. Eden West is the story of two worlds, two hearts, the power of faith, and the resilience of the human spirit.
I tend to avoid books about religion as I am afraid I will be preached to. I realize I may miss out on some wonderful reads this way, and honestly I have been preached to in books that weren’t about religion more anyway (Alice in Zombieland, I am looking at YOU), so I took a chance with Eden West. Mainly because this author won the National Book Award for Godless, and as an atheist, I had to try one of his books. Godless is still on my TBR, by the way.
This is a book about a teenager named Jacob who is in a cult, and throughout the book, he goes through changes, moving further away from his religion. I expected it to be more of a thinking book with more of a moral ambiguousness (I don’t know why I thought this, though), but it really wasn’t that at all. There is a linear storyline, and this is totally a character-driven novel.
Personally, I found it interesting that I really liked a brainwashed teenager in a cult as much as I did, and even found him relatable in a way. The characters were developed enough, but I wanted more from the supporting characters. The other members of Nodd were just names without faces, and there were so many of them that I forgot who was who. That may not be an issue for others but I have a suckeriffic memory, so I tend to expect a lot from supporting characters in the way of development so something makes them stand out to me.
The writing was simple and clean yet atmospheric. I could tell that Nodd was a beautiful place with diverse flora and fauna. And once again. even though the book was about a cult and talked about God a lot, I never felt preached too or that there was too much religion. Surprisingly enough, I also never thought that the book took a negative stance on religion, considering the subject matter.
I still don’t know how I feel about the ending though. There was a somewhat significant part of the book taken up by a romance, as this is the main moral issue that Jacob faces. He has been taught that everything he feels for Lynna, including his biological urges, is a sin, and he should not be feeling it. He feels horrible about himself, even going so far as to beat himself with a switch, so the open ending of the book left me feeling a bit conflicted. Somehow I expected more. The author leaves it up to the reader to decide what Jacob’s next move is, and to me there was no question as to what that move should have been.
So, look. It’s not as if I didn’t like the book, because I did, but I am a reader that tends to not care for those open-ended conclusions. It’s still worth reading though, and my favorite part of the book was the smooth flow and simplicity to the writing. You can tell this is a skilled author in action, and that is something to be appreciated.