Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release: February 24, 2015
Abigail doesn't know how her dad found Brother John. Maybe it was the billboards. Or the radio. What she does know is that he never should have made that first donation. Or the next, or the next. Her parents shouldn't have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there with Brother John for the "end of the world." Because of course the end didn't come. And now they're living in their van. And Aaron’s disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But maybe it’s too big a task for one teenage girl. Bryan Bliss’s thoughtful, literary debut novel is about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love.Imagine your parents have staged an upheaval of your entire life. Selling your house and non-essential possessions and giving the money away, they force you to drive across the entire United States, leaving behind your education, friends, and other family members. And worst of all, your parents make each of these terrible, terrible decisions simply because a man told them the end of the world was approaching. They have been brainwashed by the charismatic leader of a cult religion, and you are forced to share the experience.
This is No Parking at the End Times in a nutshell, and the story is just as horrifying, fascinating, and strangely empowering as it sounds.
First off, I adore the premise of this book. I love books that deal with religion—both the good sides and the bad sides of various different faiths—and No Parking at the End Times does not disappoint in its portrayal of the dangers of extreme cults. Readers get to sit in on Brother John's brainwashing sermons, glimpse his corruption, and watch Abigail's parents continue to believe and give scraps of money to the church as "tithing." Brother John's nonsensical preaching will leave you repulsed-yet-engaged and feeling absolutely terrible for the real people who fall into similar cult religion traps—especially the children who get dragged along for the ride.
What really makes No Parking at the End Times stand out, though, is its cast of characters—particularly Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron. The twins have distinct ways of dealing with their situation: Abigail tries to remain optimistic and support her parents despite their misguided decisions, while Aaron becomes sarcastic and angry and makes plans to return home. These mindsets compliment each other perfectly, portraying a range of fully developed, fully understandable emotions. And both show the character's struggles so clearly that readers cannot help cheering for Abigail and Aaron to stand up for themselves and convince their parents to abandon Brother John.
I only have one complaint about this novel: the story of how Abigail's parents grew to trust Brother John in the first place is a bit underdeveloped. Readers are told the family struggled with financial difficulties around the time Brother John began advertising, but nothing serious enough to make the average person abandon his or her life and religion and join a cult. A full understanding of the parents' motives is not necessary to enjoy the story, but I could not help feeling that some essential piece of background information was missing.
But while Abigail's story could have benefited from more development at its roots, I adored it anyway. No Parking at the End Times is short, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch in its 267 pages. Perfect for fans of stories about religion gone wrong, challenging situations, and familial bonds, Bliss's debut is a solid addition to the contemporary YA genre. I cannot wait to try his second novel.