I get sent a lot of books to review but very few of them start off with me thinking ‘Oh I’m going to hate this book’, but then end with me thinking exactly the opposite. The Land of Decoration was one of those and the reason I thought I was going to hate it was that the main character, Judith, lives alone with her father and they are members of an unspecified (but I assumed Jehovah’s Witness) religion which Judith, as a 10-year-old takes completely at face value. I wrongly assumed, as I began, that the book would preach at me as I read, but by the end of the book I could clearly see that the religious aspect was in fact less and less important to Judith and her father as more pressing issues intruded on their world together.
As I said, Judith lives alone with her father and we find out as we follow her that her mother has died giving birth to her. This is why I assumed Jehovah’s Witness as Judith overhears her father telling arguing with a friend from church about her mother having refused a blood transfusion. That her mother has died seems to have affected Judith more than anyone can know as she firmly believes that her father doesn’t love her. She is also being bullied at school because she goes preaching with the church and seems a bit ‘weird’ to her classmates so to put all that from her mind, she builds The Land of Decoration on her bedroom. This land is made up from bits of rubbish, material, cotton wool, cardboard, an old mirror and stretches across her bedroom floor. She has little people in her model and she plays out their lives in the long hours she spends in her room.
One night after the bullying has been particularly bad, Judith wonders if she made it snow in The Land of Decoration, would it snow in the real world? Come Monday morning, Judith opens her curtains to see her town carpeted in snow and she starts to believe that she can make things happen, perform miracles and that God is talking to her. Sadly for Judith, she doesn’t yet understand that this sets her even more apart from the children at her school and that the bullying will follow her home and mean tragic consequences for her and her father.
I really did end up loving this book, and loving Judith as a character. Grace McCleen really understands how children can get an idea in their heads and just run with what they think is try, even if it’s not and she has skillfully written Judith as a wide-eyed girl who merely wants to be loved and her father as a man who thinks he is dealing with his grief but, to us the outsiders it is clear he isn’t even beginning to come to terms with his wife’s death.
I won’t let on any spoilers, but what I think I most liked about the book was the conclusion – we can see Judith making more and more conclusions that are so wrong, and the speed at which this builds up into a horrifying scenario is really frightening. Grace McCleen has paced that really well and it’s one of those moments when you just want to put the book down and walk away, but are compelled to keep reading! The pay off, thankfully, is worth it in the end!