Let’s Call It a Doomsday weaves together the themes of faith, friendship, and finding yourself in a young adult (YA) novel about an impending apocalypse. Written by Berkeley High School (BHS) alumna Katie Henry, this story takes place right here in Berkeley. [Go to berkeleyhighjacket.com to read last issue’s interview with the author].
Sixteen-year-old Ellis Kimball always plans for the worst. Every action is a potential disaster. Ellis grows up in a Mormon household, and although her family loves her, they don’t understand her anxiety. The only thing that gives her solace is prepping for the potential apocalypse. But this all changes when Ellis meets Hannah, a girl who knows when the world will end. Together the girls must prepare for doomsday while Ellis fights against another unstoppable force within herself.
While Let’s Call It a Doomsday touches on a lot of relevant subjects, it still didn’t surpass any other YA novels I had come across in the past.
In the book, Henry describes Ellis and her family as “liberal-as-Mormon’s-get,” but Ellis still has conflicted thoughts about some of her church’s rules and beliefs. I appreciated this book for giving an honest and often unseen look at what being a non-conservative Mormon is like. Although the Kimballs have no problem with being LGBTQ+, it is made clear that it’s very hard to be gay and Mormon simultaneously. Ellis befriends Tal, a bisexual boy who had lost his faith after being shamed for his identity, leading Ellis to explore her own sexuality an faith.
The writing was often very witty and full of charming references. However, a lot of the dialogue and the inner monologue of the main character still had this sappy, pandering vibe that was disengaging. The author has to earn being sappy by first making the reader care.
Trying to make the reader cry from the beginning by using very cliche dialogue often results with writing that is extremely corny. When writing in the first person, as this author chose to do, you must be very skilled at creating and maintaining a likable and believable voice for your character. YA novels are fun because they feel like a sleepover party. Like gossiping with your girlfriends. They’re supposed to feel intimate, connecting you to the teenager who’s telling the story. The character of Ellis wasn’t necessarily unlikable, but I could feel the adult author expressing herself through her, and she wasn’t a believable high school girl. It’s hard to be an adult and write from the perspective of a child, especially in a different decade. Nonetheless, this did prevent me from gaining more attachment to Ellis.
Despite being an interesting story, it still follows the same basic structure and adheres to all the same troupes of your run of the mill YA. It’s still just as corny and predictable as something like Twilight, only dipped in a special Berkeley sauce.
Now, keep in mind, I’m a bit above the target audience for a book like this, and maybe I’m just unable to appreciate it for what it is. However, sometimes I found it hard to keep myself engaged when I could predict what was going to happen next. The information was often spoon-fed to the reader so that every twist and turn could be seen from miles ahead, and I just couldn’t help feeling like Henry had no faith in her reader to put it together.
Despite its faults, this book really captured the essence of Berkeley and of BHS. Henry’s descriptions, from downtown to telegraph and to the fire trail, are written with a certain wit and attention to detail that only a Bay Area native could pull off. Let’s Call It a Doomsday is a YA novel with a fresh concept and plenty of heart. It even opened up new perspectives that I’d never thought about before. The story wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was cohesive and satisfying for the most part, and if you choose to read it, you may even shed a couple of tears.