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Since we are destroying the earth, it is reasonable to prepare for the end of life as we know it. But when one girl acts on this, she is labelled as mentally ill. The heroine and narrator of this YA novel is Ellis Kimball. She is a high school junior living with her parents in San Francisco. She is extremely smart but she also worries a great deal, especially about the future of the world. She goes to a therapist to work on her anxiety issues, but she is not ready to accept that she is the one with the problem. She is convinced that the world is heading towards apocalypse, but she is not sure what will happen, and so she takes every step to prepare for disaster. Her parents find it hard to cope with her constant worry and her insistence that they need to be ready to be self-sufficient and off the grid for months. They get especially annoyed when she hoards supplies under her bed. But Ellis thinks that they are the ones being unreasonable. She goes to therapy because she has to, and she learns something from her therapist about emotions. But her worries persist.
Early on in the story, Ellis meets Hannah, who seems to know something about the end of the world. Ellis is intrigued by Hannah and her friends, who are unconventional and accepting. It becomes unclear what is going on with the story. The two girls spend a lot of time together, exploring the city, talking about their lives, and getting to know each other. Yet Hannah is always surprising and seems to be hiding information. She also seems to have her own issues, describing her disturbing dreams about the destruction of San Francisco. Weirdly, Hannah seems to have the ability to see into the future.
So Ellis's worries about the future find a more specific target through Hannah, and she wants to warn people about the future danger. She gets into increasing amounts of trouble with her parents and even her little sister thinks she is weird. The story brings in themes of global climate change, mental illness, therapy, friendship, romance, religion, homelessness, and family. The writing is strong, with Ellis mostly being appealing and reasonable. She is also a total book geek, spending unusual amounts of time reading specialist dictionaries that discuss the origins of words. With Hannah's friends, Ellis is able to geek out and even get into philosophical discussions. This must be the only YA novel that includes a discussion of Gettier problems of knowledge.
There is some overlap with the excellent movie Take Shelter (2011) by Jeff Nichols. There, the protagonist is a middle-aged father, and the religious themes are more pronounced. But a central tension in the movie is whether he is being paranoid or whether he should take his visions seriously and act to protect his family. Katie Henry's YA novel is different in tone and setting, but the two works are distinctive in addressing when apocalyptic paranoia is reasonable.
While the plot is a bit meandering, Let's Call It a Doomsday is an unusually thoughtful and interesting YA novel that should appeal to a wide range of readers.
© 2019 Christian Perring
Christian Perring teaches in NYC.
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