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Armageddon Summer
Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville
Harcourt Brace Books, 275 pages

Armageddon Summer
Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th century because of her many fairy tales and story books. She has written over 150 books for children, young adults, and adults, along with hundreds of stories and poems. She's a past-president of SFWA and has been a member of the Board of Directors of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) since its inception.

Jane Yolen Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Bruce Coville
Bruce Coville was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1950. He has lived in central New York for most of his life, growing up not far from a small town called Phoenix. At 18, he started trying to write children's books but didn't sell his first, The Foolish Giant, until he was 27. He married his now ex-wife Kathy, who illustrated that book and others, in 1969. While trying to establish himself as a writer, he spent several years working as an elementary school teacher.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

When I was a kid, the year 2000 represented "The Future." To me, and for the books that I was reading, that meant space travel, aliens, sleek uniforms, and a glimmering new shiny world.

Now that the new millennium that once seemed so far away is almost here, instead of a new world, some people see the end of it. Of course, the Millennialists, as they are sometimes called, are nothing new under the sun. Early on in the history of Christianity, there were followers of Jesus who fully expected the end of the world in their lifetimes, and downtthrough the ages, many Christians have expected the prophecy in the Book of Revelation to come true at some significant calendar event. One such great burst of millennialist spirit came when 1899 became11900, and later in the century, the invention of nuclear weapons seemed to finally usher in the fiery destruction of Earth, albeit a couple of decades early.

But, the Y2K programming problem notwithstanding, most of us expect to still be around as we approach yet another new millennium, if only because previous experience tends to bear us out.

Which brings us to the subject of Armageddon Summer, yet another edition in the Jane Yolen prolificacy project, and this time written in conjunction with equally well-known children's and young adult writer, Bruce Coville. The world is scheduled to end on July 27, 2000. Or, at least so says Reverend Beelson as he brings his flock of 144 (the number of the twelve apostles squared, no more, no less) to a mountaintop retreat to await their salvation while the rest of humanity have their "greasy souls fried." While this self-styled Armageddon (a mountain identified in Revelation 16.16 as the future site of the final battle between the forces of good and evil) does become a fiery scene of retribution and destruction, it takes the form of a secular tragedy unforeseen by the Reverend (whose name has connotations of Beelzebul, generally interpreted as a name for Satan, sometimes as "Enemy" or "Lord of Dung").

Among the 144 are two teenagers, Marina and Jed. The projected end of the world also happens to coincide with Marina's fourteenth birthday, and complicating matters further is the mutual crush emerging between Marina and Jed. Marina's mom thinks Jed is a "devil-boy." She is estranged from her husband and seems attracted to the unattached Beelson, while Jed's father is also separated from a spouse who does not share belief. Both adults are reconciled to the puzzling notion that they will somehow be saved, while those they once loved and left behind are fated for certain destruction.

Since this is a novel aimed at young adults, it is perhaps not surprising that the kids have more sense than their befuddled parents. While Marina believes in God, she has a hard time reconciling her conception of God's fairness and goodness with Beelson's prophecy. Jed is an outright non-believer, reluctantly going along with this tiresome ordeal to watch out for his father while waiting for things to get back to normal beginning on July 28th. He is not quite successful at this.

The novel has a lot of fun at the expense of fundamentalist ideology ("I actually said a prayer of my own, my first since we had arrived: Please God, get me out of this nuthouse."), particularly in pointing out the disturbing contradictions of why some people should be saved, while unsuspecting others face obliteration. The authors also seem to make the case that some people's emotional instabilities make them ripe for these kinds of unwitting beliefs. Yet, all is not black and white, even when dealing with such an easy target as the irrationality of cultists. Jed learns that he can like, even respect, people whose ideas are far-fetched, and goes so far as to develop an ambivalently sympathetic relationship with Reverend Beelson that mixes contempt with admiration.

Still, this book isn't going to sell in the Bible Belt. If any of the Religious Right bother to read this book, they'll probably want to ban it. But, then, they probably won't get the underlying message of tolerance, either, or the way both Marina and Jed come to discover their own inner strength by developing an indeterminate but reassuring faith in something larger than themselves.

Young adults are likely to get easily caught up in the plot, wondering how exactly the end of the world comes about, and are certain to be suckers for the love story. The theological ponderings lack the sophistication of, say, James Morrow, but are likely to coincide with the intended audience's own questions about the meaning of it all. This is not, however, a work of science fiction or fantasy, so, despite Yolen's presence, some readers might be disappointed that angels appear only figuratively.

The story is conveyed by alternating chapters written by Marina and Jed, which also serves as neat device for collaboration. Yolen wrote Marina's parts, and Coville Jed's. They both get the voice of an adolescent down pat, although that's perhaps not surprising considering their experience in writing for that age. Apparently, they had originally thought about writing the book via email. I Instead, Coville drove 500 miles to Yolen's house and together they produced much of the book during an intense week of writing. According to their publicist, "Jane would write a chapter from Marina's point of view and then give it to Bruce, who'd write Jed's chapter and then give it to Jane. Their mutual competitiveness spurred them on."

With that in mind, you do get the sense at times that the end of each chapter is a sort of throwing down the gauntlet to say, "Hey, top this" or "Okay, how are you going to resolve this situation?" If that was the approach, it was effective. If there's a couple of places where it seemed to fall flat, well, it certainly didn't prove to be the end of the world.

Copyright © 1998 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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