“Armageddon Summer” by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville
I’ve been reading many books lately that touch on religious themes—fiction, non-fiction, Christian, Buddhist, religion in politics, and more. “Armageddon Summer” is one that I think COHS students will enjoy—and one that will make readers think about the result of religious fanaticism.
The novel takes place in the year 2000 and is narrated by two teen characters—Marina and Jed. The female voice was written by Jane Yolen and the male by Bruce Coville (both very popular writers if young adult fiction). Marina and Jed meet at a camp on the peak of Mount Weeupcut in western Massachusetts where their parents have dragged them to await the end of the world. According to The Believers—followers of Reverend Beelson—the Book of Revelations as well as the reverend’s own revelation are interpreted to mean that on July 27, 2000 the world will end with only 144 true believers left to live.
From the action and conversation between the teens, we get the back story. Marina’s mother has jumped into weird religious sects before (and is now ignoring her kids to tune in to the reverend’s every word). Now that she is on Mount Weeupcut with all her children, Marina is trying hard to believe as well, but the fact that her father has been left behind haunts her. Does he—and all of her other family members and friends—deserve to die? Jed, who doesn’t believe for a minute, is only there to watch over his father, whom Jed believes has a few screws loose since his wife ran away with a photographer from Colorado.
On the mountaintop, working to prepare the community of 144 for the end of the world, Marian and Jed sort out their own versions of reality. Many of The Believers whom they work and talk with are kind and sometimes quite reasonable. Even Reverend Beelson is decent and rational in his treatment of the unbelieving Jed. But amidst the amiable conversations, Believers are fortifying their camp with barbed wire and electric fencing so that non-believers can’t make their way in when the world ends. Unfortunately, people outside the community of Believers also start believing that they need to be on the mountaintop in order to be saved—and the results are a sort of Armageddon “made by man. Not by God.”
Students who are asked to read and make a connection to real situations in history could look up David Koresh (Waco, Texas) and Jim Jones in Guyana.