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. As she descends into near hopelessness, I wanted to climb inside the book and do something to help her with her confusion and pain. And that, to me, is the mark of a great book ... caring so much about the characters that you wish you could be there in the story with them. This is a look at life through the eyes of a child; one full of the brutal honesty and sad hope of a girl who thinks that she can fix everything through faith.
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.
Judith wanders back and forth between reality and delusion, uncanny insight and misinterpretation, genuine faith and a twisted religiosity that expresses more the consequences of a world without God rather than one illumined by His presence. Feeling completely powerless, she becomes entangled in a web of emotional need, imagination , creativity and religiosity, in a manner which enables her to believe she has the power to alter her world.
Teetering on the brink of schizophrenia, Judith appears at times to lose her bearings completely. But her own search for truth, a teacher who cares, and a father who begins to heal may help her negotiate the rocky road back to sanity and love. For Judith, perhaps the gateway to experience of the true Father begins with the love of the real father, who may have to break down in order to break through - and reach out.
As a psychotherapist myself, who as a child sought refuge from abuse and neglect in creative expression, I am impressed with the sensitivity, depth and believability with which author Grace McCleen portrays Judith's inner life. Surely, having broken free of a narrow, restrictive form of evangelism herself, McCleen must have experienced some of what her young heroine experiences. Unless she wrestled with her own demons in order to gain and maintain her grip on reality, how else could she so convincingly guide us through the labyrinth of Judith's mind?
To potential readers who are Christian and may be wary of the book's subject, be assured that THE LAND OF DECORATION does not attack Christianity or Evangelism per se. Rather it portrays the negative consequences that result from religion becoming twisted, losing its anchor in true faith and love - and the process of disentangling and awakening.
Reading THE LAND OF DECORATION we continually descend into hell, into the anguish within Judith's mind and the desolation of her environment. Not all readers may feel inclined to suffer such torments.
I therefore recommend the book with reservations. It is not for all. But it possesses a savage beauty, a tough and fierce tenderness which will reward readers who have the courage to journey into the fire, withstand its burning, and revel in its light.
on July 24, 2012
Disappointment comes to mind when describing Grace McCleen's "The Land of Decoration". The book centers around a young girl, Judith, who's bleak relationship with her widowed father and ties to a religious group that believes "The End" is within a few years' reach, leave Judith as an outcast and lonely child. As a means to escape daily bullying and emotionally connect, Judith begins building her own land in her room each night. It's one night in particular that starts the story off, where Judith wishes for a snow storm and suddenly the town is knee-deep in thick snow, closing down school and the local factories. From here till the end of the book, Judith begins to believe her wishes and decoration of her miniature town are the cause of the town's random occurrences and problems.
McCleen begins the story and executes it quite well with character build and intense imagery, so much so, that my dissatisfaction didn't appear till the very end. It's as if, she suddenly became tired with the story and wanted a simple exit. Throughout the book, the story continuously builds upon itself and then abruptly takes a wrong turn and ends. Whereas I enjoyed 3/4s of the book, McCleen's choice of how to end was so weak and undeserving, that it cast a dark shadow over the entire novel.
on April 8, 2012
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. She tells us that her father doesn't love her (But as readers we know that he is distant because of the death of her mother). I also found myself questioning the others in her life, I suppose as Judith herself did. For example, there is a teacher who continually reaches out to her, and yet Judith does not respond to her at all, which led me to believe that her motives might not be all good, when in reality, I think that it was Judith's skepticism and mistrust of people outside her own faith that was coming through -- brilliant.
In the end, for me, it's a pretty sad and intense book. That is part of the beauty in creating a novel -- giving me something to think and feel -- but in this instance, mostly due to the warped concept of God put out there, I'm left sitting on the fence.
on February 15, 2012
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.
This is a powerful book. You have a little girl and her father. They are part of a religious group that believes the end of the world is coming- and they work to bring their message to those in the community. This little girl is an outcast because of her family's beliefs, and because of her own uniqueness. Her father is a distant man, since the death of her mother, and this little girl is haunted. She believes to be at fault for her mother's death; she believes her father does not love her; she also believes she can hear the voice of God and perform miracles.
This child has created a model of the town, out of various trash and such that she has collected. But she starts to hear a Voice, and she does things to the town and the people in it, and those things come to pass. You are left wondering if this is the voice of God, Satan, or if this child is so "damaged" in life that she is simply hearing voices.
The trials this girl and her father go through come to a climactic moment of strength. This is one powerful, intense book, covering topics such as faith and family.
on June 2, 2012
Reason for Reading: Very intriguing plot captured my interest.
This is a tough book to review. I loved parts of it and disliked other parts of it. Mainly, I adored the main character, 10yo Judith, in whose voice the narrative is written. She is naive and not always a reliable narrator but we are given events from her point of view as she sees them happen. I read the book very quickly over two days and had a hard time putting the book down. Parts of it were just lovely, other parts I heartily disagreed with. As a Christian, I don't feel the author is making a grand statement one way or the other about Christianity as a whole. I do think she is using this powerful message of father/daughter relationship, a mother's death, a girl's bullying because of her religion to show that bad things happen, even when we have the best intentions. That fanaticism of anything is never good. That God does not "let" bad things happen, we make our own choices and suffer the consequences of them, as rightly we should.
Judith carries this book. She and her father belong to this unnamed religious fringe group (never named, but disclaimed to be Mormons) which is obsessed with the End Times. Otherwise they seem harmless enough, much of their Christian doctrine can be found in true Christian denominations but then it has been twisted in a way to make it what it is in this book. This may offend some Christian readers, but I take it that it is fiction and that these kind of kooky Christian sects do exist though they are not the norm. This group for the most part follows Christ; it is its obsession with Armageddon which removes it from the focus of Christ. Non-Christians may find the book too full of Christian references, Bible quotations and simple plain Christian living; this may annoy them or unfortunately make them think this fringe group is somehow representative of "normal" Christianity.
These are the things I didn't like about the book; the constant fighting in my head with the representation of these "Christians". Something profound would be said and then something equally laughable would be said. As to the story otherwise, it was very good. Judith is a naive girl who asks big questions of her father, the grown-ups at church, about religion and life. She is always asking "why?" and she is respected for her clever questions. At school it is the same, except with the other children, and one boy in particular, who bullies and teases her relentlessly because she is an outcast from them. Not allowed to attend morning assembly, wearing plain clothes, and talking easily about God, Armageddon and the Den of Iniquity of the modern world. No matter what is happening in this world around her; her being bullied, her dad being a scab, boy's taunting their house in the evening's Judith does believe in God and talks to him. He has started to answer her back and miracles have started to happen. Perhaps this is all in the confused girl's head or perhaps she is a real mystic. But you will fall in love with Judith and root for her as she tries to cope with a sad life that left her motherless and alone with a father who does everything he can for her but does not know how to show love and affection.
This book is going to take some time for me to ruminate on before I really decide whether I think it was just OK or Good. I did like it; I'm just not sure how much. The ending was underwhelming and with all the religion/God emphasis throughout I expected something more uplifting than what we were given. The book did have some moments of sage wisdom and at other times I was left shaking me head. The instructions for making a hot air balloon, I do understand their significance but as an ending it leaves one dumbstruck. If you love stories about people pondering the purposes of God in their lives this will be the book for you.
on April 8, 2012
I don't think it matters how you stand on religious sects. For `em, against `em, part of one, interested, disinterested....I believe that like me, you will find yourself mesmerized by the story of this precocious 10 year old girl. This novel, as it unfolds, will enfold you into the warp and weave of the story's tapestry like a thread captured and manipulated by the artist. I could not put this one down. It is one of the books so well constructed that as it goes along you are praying that it can continue with this quality...and not let you down along the line as some do. It does a magnificent job of holding you straight through. And that's how I read it. Started it in the afternoon and read it right through until the middle of the night when it was finally finished. And then I went back and reread a few parts. The writing is superb...listen to this....'Miracles don't have to be big, and they can happen in the unlikeliest places. Sometimes they are so small people don't notice. Sometimes miracles are shy. They brush against your sleeve, they settle on your eyelashes. They wait for you to notice, then melt away.' I could reread this one page alone over and over and take great delight in it each and every time. The entire book is that well written. The ending I reread several times, wondering where it goes and what the characters do. Still not sure. What I am certain of is that this is a marvelous book. One I will definitely recommend to friends who are also readers of the best.
on January 23, 2013
Beautiful writing which captures the devotion and confusion of a ten-year-old girl being raised by her widowed father.
Grace McCLeen drops the reader into this child's head flawlessly. The young girl's blind acceptance and participation in a father's unusual and isolating religious beliefs. Her withdrawal into the sanctuary of her room, into the miniaturized world of her creation, a place of Biblical references and origins, a place to be safe from incomprehensible ridicule and bullying. The reader understands why the little girl could be regarded as an outcast, but the child comes to slivers of this understanding in heartbreaking half steps. Each one adds a new dusting of disillusion and enlightenment, part of the mixed blessing everyone experiences on the road through life.
McCleen tells the story using language and imagery appropriate for the child, yet each scene and observation builds toward the whole. Others may influence our options and attitudes, but in the end - Armageddon being another of the author's artful symbols - we are each unto ourselves.
on March 28, 2012
All her life 10-year-old Judith McPherson has been waiting for and expecting the world to end Armageddon style. It's what she was brought up to believe, and as a child her faith is more powerful and unshakeable than that of even the most devoted adult, including her sad, humorless father. For Judith, a major perk to all the biblically described destruction is that she'll see her mother again, and her father will be finally happy.
Largely isolated because of her family's religion, Judith has spent several years creating a miniature world out of rubbish and discarded scraps to represent the biblical land of decoration, an ongoing project that takes over most her room. When bullying makes her afraid to return to school Judith has a conversation in her head with God, which gives her the idea to try creating a miracle using her land of decoration model, and she thinks she succeeds. It snows so heavily school is closed and at first Judith is ecstatic, with the faith of a child she has no doubts that she caused the change in weather, but then she finds there are unexpected consequences. No one believes her when she tries to tell them she caused the blizzard, not even the adults who preach about miracles in the Bible, so she's even more isolated than before with no one to ask for advice. And she desperately wants guidance because as she continues to attempt to fix her world she discovers how complicated doing the right thing can be.
Like Judith, author Grace McCleen was raised in a family whose religious convictions kept them apart from the rest of the world, and I picked out The Land of Decoration because I was interested in getting a glimpse inside the head of a child brought up in a closed community of faith. McCleen's writing is potent and beautiful and I couldn't put this compelling book down until I finished it.