14 April 2015

No Parking At the End Times by Bryan Bliss

I've read a lot of books this year: 38 and counting so far. And I've read a lot in years past, especially once I stopped watching so much television.

But I think Bryan Bliss's NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES is only the second book where the main character's faith played a part in the story. (The other was Una LaMarche's LIKE NO OTHER.)

I don't know if that's because of my own reading habits or because it's not something that we see a lot in mainstream YA, but I have a feeling it might be more the latter. I add books to my list fairly indiscriminately: things I think I'll like, things I think will challenge me, things I think will expand my horizons. This was definitely in the last category.

I've been an atheist since I was probably twelve years old, and though I come from a deeply religious family (Baha'i, on my dad's side), it was never something I really got. I have friends who are committed Christians, and a few friends who are religious Jews. I went to school with friends who are Muslims, though we sadly lost touch when we all moved back home (me to the states, them to the Eastern Hemisphere).

I find it's easy to be friends with people of faith as long as you don't discuss the subject too much, because passions run high and sometimes people don't want to hear other opinions. I'm sure I'm just as guilty of that as they are. But when everyone is on the defensive, there's no room for meaningful engagement.

Which brings me back to NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES. I got the chance to engage with the book in an open and honest way that I don't often get to with other people. I had to listen to the book, I couldn't talk to it; and because I couldn't talk back, all the book could give me was its honesty. All Abigail, the main character, could do was share her story with me and let me draw my own conclusions.

Abigail's family—her twin brother Aaron, her mom and dad—packed up what they could in a van, sold the rest of their possessions, and moved to San Francisco to go to the church of Brother John, who had prophesied Doomsday was near.

It wasn't.

Abigail never really had that much faith in brother John, I think, but her deeply held belief in God imbues every page with longing for connection, for validation, for some sign that her parents (her father especially) aren't wrong.

As Aaron drifts further away from her, Abigail struggles to come to terms with the fact that not only is she homeless—no different than the homeless kids she sees on the streets of San Francisco—but that her father has led her to it.

The most heartbreaking thing is seeing how truly Abigail's parents are trying to do the right thing, by their kids and by their God. It would be easy to vilify the parents, but Bliss never does; they are earnest, even when they're failing.

As she realizes she has to look out for herself, think for herself, Abigail has to confront her own preconceived notions of what faith in God means to her. And that's a struggle we all face, whether we're Christian or atheist, agnostic or devout: deciding what it means to us.

I'm a little surprised to say it, but I really enjoyed NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, and I hope to see more books like it: honest examinations of faith that don't try to preach, but ask the questions that all of us ask.