Grace McCleen has written an extraordinary debut novel. The problem is that it is difficult to speak of The Land of Decoration without inadvertently spoiling its impact for future readers. I am, however, going to give it a shot.
The book’s central character is little Judith McPherson. Judith is a precocious ten-year-old whose life centers around her belief that she and her father are living in the end days. Because time is running out for the world, Judith and her father regularly knock on the doors of strangers hoping to convince a few of them that they need to change their lives before it is too late.
That the McPhersons are seen as neighborhood kooks is bad enough. A much worse problem for Judith is that her religious ways have caught the attention of the class bully, a kid determined to make every minute she spends in school as miserable as possible. Until Judith’s ineffective teacher is replaced by a long term substitute, she does not stand a chance against the bully and his pals. But, when the new teacher’s efforts to protect Judith from the little monster only make things worse, Judith comes up with a plan of her own.
For such a little girl, Judith is a big-picture person. Her plan, one she stumbles onto by accident, is as dangerous as it is effective. Then, when Judith realizes that the plan has serious side effects, side effects that often blow up in the face of her and her father, she decides it is time to stop. But will she be allowed to stop before it is too late? Are things out of her hands for good now?
The Land of Decoration is one of those books that can be read on several levels, a book whose meaning will vary from reader to reader. It is about the relationship between a little, single-parent girl and her father, a relationship that is often strained and confusing to the child. It is about what happens when a child suffers a personal crisis and none of the adults in her world take her hinted-at pleas for help seriously. It explores the power of hardcore religious faith to dominate every waking moment of true believers, even – maybe especially – if they are children. Simply put, there is a lot going on in The Land of Decoration, certainly much more than appears at first glance.
As Judith works her way through a personal crisis that would bring many adults to their knees in despair, the reader will begin to wonder what is real and what is not. Judith McPherson is such a special little girl that it is easy to believe that what she describes is as real as the clothes she puts on every morning. But Judith McPherson is such a “special” little girl that it is easy to believe that she is losing her grip on reality. Readers will have to decide for themselves.
As for me, I remain somewhat mystified but would love to hear what other readers think.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)