Wednesday, April 4, 2012

REVIEW: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen


In Grace McCleen's harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps—the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father's modest lives—a strike threatens her father's factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory—Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God's chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world. With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we'll go to protect the things we love most.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2012)
ISBN 0805094946 (ISBN13: 9780805094947)

About the Author
from the Macmillan website

Grace McCleen studied English Literature at Oxford University and The University of York before becoming a full-time writer and musician. She lives in London. The Land of Decoration is her first novel. 

Check out her website
Read the recent author interview Shelf Awareness posted

Check out this trailer, which is what made me want to read this book:

My Thoughts 
In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.

The story takes place in a dingy, dreary, industrialized town. I don’t believe that the book ever gives a clear indication of where the town is, but there are little clues that would lend to the idea that it could be a small English town.
In our town nothing seems to be where it should. There are car engines in gardens and plastic bags in bushes and shopping trolleys in the river. There are bottles in the gutter and mice in the bottle bank, walls with words on and signs with words crossed out. There are streetlights with no lights and holes in the road and holes in the pavement and holes in exhaust pipes. There are houses with broken windows and men with broken teeth and swings with broken seats. There are dogs with no ears and cats with one eye and once I saw a bird with not many feathers. (page 18)
Judith McPherson is the ten-year-old voice of the story. Clever, sweet-intentioned most of the time, albeit confused and displaying some questionable behavior, she believes her father doesn’t love her.
I have a secret. The secret is this: Father doesn’t love me. (page 62) 
There was one day when I thought Father loved me. On that day Father and I walked hand in hand for eleven miles. (page 238)
Judith has created a secret miniature world in her bedroom, made from the discarded scraps of everyday life. A quiet girl without friends her own age, she lives through the landscape and citizens of her handmade world.

Judith’s life is made miserable and difficult by a school bully by the name of Neil Lewis.
But what is worse is that, on Monday, Neil Lewis will put my head down the toilet, and if I die who will make me again? (page 6)
Her only solace in life is found in her relationship with God. Although the religion is never named in the book, it seems evident to me that the fictional religion is based on that of Jehovah’s Witnesses or something very similar. I think I only noted one difference between it and the religion here in the US. Knowing a lot of Witnesses myself, I can tell you that the majority of the terms, beliefs and practices are those of the Witness faith. Even the scriptures are the same scriptures that a Witness will regularly quote.
Pay Caesar’s things to Caesar, God’s things to God. (page 87)
I can't tell you how many times I've been quoted that one!

Making them Witness-like is an effective way to reinforce that Judith is in her own world, as Witnesses believe that they are “no part of this world” and keep themselves apart from the rest of society in their personal lives. They are instructed not to associate with non-believers (which is why it is so rare for someone like me to be friendly with so many Witnesses, even having recently attended a Witness wedding). This helped to strengthen the image of Judith as being a part of her handmade “Land of Decoration” in her bedroom more so than the world outside her door.

Throughout the story, you are never quite sure whether Judith is delusional, or whether her life is full of coincidence. What is real, and what is in her head? But you continually want to take her in your arms and offer her solace.
And then I know that I am enormous and I am small, I go on forever and am gone in a moment, I am as young as a baby mouse and as old as the Himalayas. I am still and I am spinning. And if I am dust, then I am also the dust of stars. (page 190)
The cover is very fitting, showing a snowflake cut from paper, and with text that looks as if it is handwritten. It really ties into what the book is about-- a little girl who creates a whole world in her bedroom, and the cover ties into a scene in the book where the students cut out paper snowflakes in class.

There is some vulgarity and crudity, but it is by no means gratuitous. It is kind of hard to have low-life bullies without it.

My final word: I was in love with this book and little Judith McPherson before I finished page 1! As the story went on, I found that there were moments that inspired an almost visceral response. You find yourself thinking "no, no, no!" You find yourself pulling for this confused little girl at odds with herself and the world, trying to find balance with her otherwise rocky existence. Probably about three-quarters of the way through my love affair faded slightly, but I found it picked up again before long, and in the end I loved this story. I loved Judith.

(Note: I've decided to start breaking down my ratings, to help me think it through a little better)

Cover: 8.5/10
Writing Style: 9/10
Characters: 9/10
Storyline/Plot: 8/10
Interest/Uniqueness: 9/10

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10


I received a copy of this book to review from Henry Holt and Company, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ in the finished copy.

No comments: