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The Land of Decoration: A Novel Hardcover – March 27, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2012: “In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.” Extraordinarily bright for her 10 years but isolated by her strange faith, Judith McPherson has always known she’s living in the End Times, anticipating a new life in “a land flowing with milk and honey.... the decoration of all lands.” Life with her widowed Father feels oppressively quiet, so out of candy wrappers and shoe laces and other cast-off stuff, she creates an intricate replica of her town in her room--one that lives by the rules of her internal logic--and makes the astonishing discovery that what she does in her bedroom’s Land of Decoration gives her miraculous abilities in this one. Egged on by the voice of God (or one more sinister), she expands her powers until real life teeters on a tenuous edge. A visceral and memorable depiction of an imaginative child trying to reconcile her idyllic interior life with a harsher world, Grace McCleen’s visionary debut grapples with essential questions: how to feel your way forward when faith blurs with madness, or grief cleaves a parent from their child, or our imagined sense of control cedes to life’s wondrous chaos. --Mari Malcolm


Gripping…philosophically sophisticated…McCleen never tips her hat. The writing is born of a genuine inquiry into the nature of religious belief, especially as it relates to one's psychological development…The Land of Decoration puts a child at the crux of this interpretive dillema, and our hearts go out to her. (The New York Times Book Review)

[A] mind-bending, soul-stretching, gloriously realized debut…While end-of-time stories are faddish, UK writer Grace McCleen's novel, The Land of Decoration, is one to heed. The first sentence sets the tone for this rapturous, daringly imaginative tale of love, loss, and salvation… (Elle magazine)

McCleen skillfully keeps us in a state of suspense; we root for Judith even while we are aghast at her conclusions and actions… [A]s the advice and instruction Judith receives become increasingly dangerous, the book becomes something even the Bible can't always be: a page turner. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

This extraordinary tale of one little girl's End Times grabbed me by the throat. The Land of Decoration is part social observation and part crazy mysticism, held together by a brutally real story of parent-child love. (Emma Donoghue, author of Room)

Loveable, unique and thrillingly uncategorisable… A story about a small person's small antithesis of a small town full of small-minded people, this is a big-hearted novel. (Chris Cleave, Financial Times)

Gripping, beautiful… [M]akes you gasp with delight…In many ways it's suspense--is Judith going to get hurt?--that keeps you tearing through the pages (be prepared for the complete and total devastation of your social life; once you pick up this novel, you will not be able to do anything until you finish)... This isn't a child like the other children in books--say, the unbelievably smart ones who can lecture on astronomy and rare stamps. This is a regular old child, a loving, confused, tender-hearted little person who is trying, like all of us, to make some sense of out of this life. (Oprah.com pick for “Book of the Week”)

The novel's best moments offer a profound sense of the existential crisis that any believer eventually faces… McCleen also has a good ear for the blessings of comedy -- the little moments of absurdity that children experience as they try to make sense of religion. (Ron Charles, The Washington Post)

Grace McCleen's writing is deep, fantastical and powerful, and she really lets us into the heart of this tender, gentle little girl…A wonderful gen of a debut novel. (The Independent (UK))

A tremendously affecting novel, skillfully and arrestingly written, and one that packs a big emotional punch. (The Sunday Times (UK))

British musician McCleen's debut explores the complexities of love between a widowed father and his daughter…McCleen adroitly combines cinematic momentum with intuitive description in this novel about the consequences of faith and what happens when we believe that we have the power to effectuate change. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

So memorable…Surprising, affecting, thoughtful and complex, McCleen's novel grows in power the more time you spend with it. (The Guardian (UK))

Extraordinary…like Emma Donoghue (whose "Room" was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize) McCleen has created a voice which rings true and resonates deep. Bursting with tension and tenderness, this novel is a small miracle in itself. (Daily Mail (UK))

[A] stunning debut.…At its core, it's about the biggest issues a person can encounter--how to confront the unknown, how to negotiate faith and how to be a decent and loving human being. The fact that Grace McCleen is able to address these matters with such subtlety and delicacy is no small miracle itself. (Bookpage)

Which of us, when we were small, didn't fervently wish for -- and frankly believe in -- divine intervention? [The Land of Decoration] paints an affecting and often unsettling portrait of pure faith. B+ (Entertainment Weekly)

Debut author McCleen creates a believable, compelling voice for the youthful narrator, and her portrait of a bereaved father is equally affecting…(a) haunting debut. (Kirkus)

[Grace McCleen] writes with a kind of plaintive lyricism; you ache for Judith, but keep reading, because there's something haunting and addictive about the rhythm of the sentences. (The Seattle Times)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Printing edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805094946
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805094947
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,578,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At the crux of The Land Of Decoration is the relationship of a girl, her father, and their religious beliefs. Judith is a 10-year old girl who has been raised by her widowed father to believe that they are living in the end days. They go out canvassing neighborhoods, passing out religious pamphlets that warn people about Armageddon. They read Bible passages every evening and 'ponder' upon them. In her bedroom, Judith has built an entire world out of scraps she's found in the garbage, on the ground, or anywhere she finds something that could be useful. When she begins to be tormented by a bully at school, she prays for snow so that she will have to miss school and blankets The Land of Decoration with pretend snow ... a freak October snowstorm falls on their city. When she wishes for the snow to stop and removes the snow from her Land, the snow miraculously stops, and thus Judith begins to believe that she has the power to cause miracles and make things happen. One day, the voice of God starts to speak to her inside of her head (or is it her own imagination?) and she wishes for payback for the boy who has been bullying her. Whatever she makes the people in her Land do, happens in its own form in real life ... sort of like a city of voodoo ... but the results aren't exactly what Judith has been hoping for.

As the factory where her father works goes on strike and he crosses the picket line, and the bullying begins to pass into more dangerous territory, Judith's thoughts take on darker and darker tones. She doesn't know what to do about the things God is telling her or about the lack of faith in their fundamentalist worldview that her father begins to exhibit.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
How fitting that Grace McCleen's LAND OF DECORATION begins: "In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of time. I said, `I am going to make fields,' and I made them from place mats, carpet, brown corduroy and felt. Then I made rivers from crepe paper, plastic wrap and shiny tin foil......and I saw that they were good."

The narrator, Judith, is a ten year old girl, both precocious and deluded, obsessed with creating her own "Land of Decoration" (the Promised Land according to the book of Ezekiel) out of scraps and doodads, some made from past belongings of her deceased mother.

Discovering that events such as a snowstorm that she shapes in her imaginary world manifest in the external world, and believing that she hears the voice of God commanding her, Judith becomes convinced that she can create miracles. But the God she worships and obeys is a wrathful God, a God of vengeance rather than compassion.

Judith's father, rigidly evangelistic, and consumed with his own sadness and conflicts, is unresponsive to his daughter's needs, and angered by her overactive imagination. "I don't want to hear any more about this," he repeatedly tells her. Eventually, the bully Neil Lewis who threatens and terrifies her at school,
torments her father as well, leading to an eventual showdown.

Clearly, THE LAND OF DECORATION is not a light read, and is frequently painful. But the author Grace McCleen brilliantly conveys the experience of Judith, who struggles with such determination to make sense of the hostile world in which she lives.
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Format: Paperback
The Land of Decoration is a different type of book in both content and style. Can this ten year old girl create miracles at will? Just what relationship does she really have with her father; with God? Is she really living at the end of time? and will Armageddon happen by the end of the book? Is this book real or fiction? The front cover says it is a novel; the back cover says "a brutally real story of parent-child love." I began to question my own sanity by the time I finished the book. The issue for me is the method of the story telling. The girl presents thoughts of weeds and concrete and color and pieces of things. There is much introspection to such detail it became tedious to read. It is not a normal novel that carries a story. It is a girl thinking; always thing to the point one questions her sanity and one's own. Is this reality thinking for a child? Whether it is or not it is not one I can relate to nor wish to. It was not a fun book to read, at least not for me. This 10 year old is not living in a ten year old world, or even in reality. But this is not my story but the author's, Grace McCleen and she has a right to her story and creating such a strange 10 year old. The writing is very different and I think it is something you will either love of detest. Without giving anything away, the final chapter is instructions for making a hot air balloon. I have no clue how that fits into the story.
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Format: Hardcover
Since I believe in God with a Christian faith, I wasn't sure how I would like the portrayal of Judith, who is described in the publisher's description as "a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith." Her belief is compared with her imagination, but the "power of faith" is also trumpeted in the press materials. I absolutely believe first-hand in the power of belief, but it is my Savior who performs miracles within me, not my own will or imagination. So, I knew that would be a sticking point in my possible enjoyment of the novel.

The book is told from 10-year-old Judith's perspective, giving rise to comparisons to the extraordinary novel ROOM. The stories are totally different, but the power of using a narrator who believes and interprets things differently, and perhaps only knows part of the story has the same effect, and it's powerful.

Judith and her father's religion is portrayed as a conservative legalistic belief (and though it's not named, I do believe that it's more of a religious sect than true Christianity). That said, people who are not of the Christian faith probably lump them all together. Their faith is shown to be real, in my opinion, and is not mocked in the telling of the story, which was important to me.

That said, there is a character of God who speaks to Judith, and it's here that the Believer would have to interpret this storyline. Is Judith crazy? Or has God really chosen her to act out on His behalf? I'm not sure that the intent is completely clear, but if I hold true to what my faith teaches me, I know what side I come down on. There are also things that this "God" says that are truly blasphemous.

This is where the child's POV does it's work. We only know what Judith truly believes.
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