Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of "The Land of Decoration" [55]

The Land of Decoration: A Novel 
by Grace McCleen
Henry Holt and Co., ISBN-13: 978-0805094947
March 27, 2012, 320 pages

The real world that 10 year old Judith, the narrator of our book, lives in is not the most pleasant place. She is very lonely, separated from her classmates at school by the fundamentalist Christian sect that she and her father belong to. But she is distant from her father as well, an angry and frozen man who has retreated into himself after the death of his wife at Judith's birth.
"I don't know what Father's perfect day wold be like. I expect it would be full of Necessary Things like Bible study and preaching and Saving Electricity and Being Quiet and Wasting Not Wanting. In which case, he has his perfect day all the time.
Or perhaps his idea of a perfect day vanished a long time ago and he has forgotten how to imagine a new one."
So Judith has taken refuge in a world of her own creation, a little town she has built, perfect as she believes the world will be after Armageddon, which they believe is just around the corner. Is is an idealized version of her working class, rather depressed town that she has created from found objects and trash...
“There is a world in my room. It is made from things no one else wanted and it is made with things that were my mother’s, that she left to me, and it has taken most of my life to make.”

But even her Land of Decoration is not enough to comfort her after she become the intended victim of a bully at school, a boy that she..and we...believe will try to drown her in a toilet at school come Monday. So Judith goes to God and prays that He sends a huge snowstorm, so that school will be cancelled. She decorates her tiny town with fake snow and ice, believing it will bring about her wish. When she wakes up the next morning to see a record snowfall, as she believes her prayers have been answered and will continue to be answered, that she can actually effect reality, it sets off a chain effect of requests she makes to God. Or, as no doubt many will believe, the voice she hears that she believes is God. Regardless, it sets in motion a series of events that a ten year old could never foresee, and seems helpless to stop.

Is Judith really hearing God talk to her, really controlling events with her prayers or is it all just a coincidence? Or perhaps is she, as her new teacher seems to think, a budding schizophrenic, desperately in need of help?
And that is perhaps the most interesting part of this very interesting book, that the author never tips her hand, leaving the reader to interpret the events as Judith relates them on our own. There is a lot to think about here, about the nature of faith, about religion, about God, on the one hand and equally about being a parent, and being a family, about guilt and grief on the other. This would, I think, make a wonderful choice for a bookclub, with all sorts of issues to talk about.

It is a beautifully written book, with some breathtaking images and lovely language and yet it is also, at times, quite dark and disturbing. Whether it is a hopeful ending or a tragic one, again the reader will have to decide. I will go with hopeful, thank you. Because I want Judith to be all right, to be happy, to have a father who will finally protect her, who will finally wake up to what is going on.
Because beyond all the issues put forward in this story, at the heart of this book is the charming Judith and I dare any reader not to be pulling for her. We can't help but hope that somehow her world will not come to a terrible and sad end, destroyed as her little created world, her Land of Decoration, could so easily be. She is a very smart, a rather precocious child, but a 10 year old child all the same, whose world seems on the edge of spinning out of control, a child in desperate need of her father.

Highly recommended.

My thanks to Henry Holt and Company for providing me with a copy of this book for review.


  1. Replies
    1. yes, it is certainly true..it is different.

  2. Does sound interesting with the potential for heartbreaking. I feel for Judith already.

  3. read a review of this in the Times just the other day ... sounds interesting .. thanks ... back from my get-away and struggling to catch up

  4. I've read a few reviews of this one, and it caught my attention. I love it when I am left to interpret endings of books...it is courageous of an author to allow such a thing.

  5. Poor little Judith. This sounds like a book I'd love.

  6. I have seen other reviews of this book and have been on the fence about it but your review makes me want to read it so thank you for that. Well done!

  7. this sounds like a book i would really like. the cover is really pretty and keeps catching my eye!


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