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The novel is set in Massachusetts during the year 2000. References to Massachusetts place names, like the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, reflect the locale. References to products like Coke and Pepsi, and to computers and the Internet, enhance the novel's atmosphere of contemporary realism.

Although the novel begins with...

(The entire section contains 2094 words.)

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The novel is set in Massachusetts during the year 2000. References to Massachusetts place names, like the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, reflect the locale. References to products like Coke and Pepsi, and to computers and the Internet, enhance the novel's atmosphere of contemporary realism.

Although the novel begins with Marina's and Jed's recollections of earlier times with their respective families, it primarily covers a three-week period that ends July 27, the day Reverend Beelson predicted Armageddon will begin. The main action takes place in the Believer retreat on Mount Weeupcut, in a wooded area normally reserved for recreational camping by the day or week. The area is reached by a narrow blacktop that turns into a dirt road spiraling up the mountainside. Marina describes the place as "pretty wild, pretty cold," inhospitable even in the summer. Its remoteness conforms to Reverend Beelson's characteristic sense of isolation from a sinful world.

A quarter of a mile up from the encampment of Believers, above the timberline, is the rugged, rocky mountaintop itself. It is significant thematically as a place apart from the Believers spiritually as well as physically. Jed often withdraws to a mountaintop cave to think in private, and Marina can usually find him there. In this meeting-place the two share their thoughts, especially their religious doubts, and develop their budding relationship. Here too Jed escapes with his laptop computer, one of the technological advances that Reverend Beelson forbids.

The encampment below, where the teenagers spend most of their time, is equipped with facilities that are typical of wilderness use areas. There is a historically interesting log cabin called Cut House, which Reverend Beelson renames The Temple. Four rooms inside open onto a "Great Hall." One room contains a generator to produce electricity and a wood-burning stove on which to cook. An artesian well provides water. Beside the site's four primitive bathrooms, long trenches dug by the Believers serve as privies for 144 members. Tents arranged in rings around Cut House serve as living quarters.

The realistic camp setting lends credibility to the group's activities and rituals. Their religion includes "Capital Letters for Everything," according to Jed. Besides The Temple, there are The Place of Eating and The Place of Greeting. A big signboard records the number of arrivals in the cult. Accurate records are necessary since Reverend Beelson's claims that the Scriptures limit salvation to 144. Early arrivals are called First Families. Persons who seek late entrance are Last- Minute Christers. Before each meal, Believers attend church. Besides listening to fiery preaching about doom and destruction, they sing, shout, dance, sway, clap hands, and cry.

Men and women meet separately for daily Bible study. Labor is divided by gender as well and honors the Believer slogan: "Remember That Work Is Prayer Made Visible." Women known as Lady Angels clean and cook, although food often consists of canned food and lumpy oatmeal. Lady Seraphim provide day care for the youngest children. Marina is one of the big girl Cherubs assigned to do anyone's bidding. Jed helps Angel men construct the electrified fence that he finds ominous. Also ominous are the armed Angels, the big, strong men assigned to guard the camp with rifles and semiautomatic weapons.

Literary Qualities

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In Armageddon Summer, chapters alternate between the viewpoint of two characters who speak in first-person narration. Yolen wrote for Marina and Coville for Jed. The result is an impressive sense of focus, as each character brings a different perspective to the same events. Because the authors are well matched, their characters' distinctive voices achieve equal depth and strength.

The chapters written in the voices of "Marina" and "Jed" are often interspersed with brief pieces that present additional perspectives on characters, setting, and action. The first, for example, constructed as an excerpted FBI file, supplies information about Reverend Beelson's past. Drafts of letters written by Myrna Marlow shed additional light on her character and that of her husband, Harmon. Texts of sermons delivered by Reverend Beelson provide insight on the nature of his preaching. Such pieces as these and others allow the reader to know what cannot be reported by Marina and Jed, but they do not disturb the flow of the story.

The novel features rounded characters and believable dialogue. Serious themes are lightened by humorous touches. The dialogue of Grahame, for example, incorporates joking remarks. The interposed radio interview with a scholar features the repartee of a fun-loving announcer. Action is fast-paced and moves swiftly from family backgrounds to the characters' departures for Mount Weeupcut, the novel's major setting. The authors employ characters' recollections to facilitate almost immediate entry into the major action, which builds for several weeks that end on the day of the predicted Armageddon. The novel culminates in bursts of dramatically realized insights as well as action.

Figurative language lends power to the writing. Jed describes the outsiders' disruption of the inspirational Last Day ritual with a volley of images: "with shrieks that sliced through my newfound joy like razors of fire, they burst through the door." The day's lasting impact is depicted in words that mimic the violence of gunfire: "It keeps bursting back on me in little pieces, shreds of memory that explode in the middle of a thought." Marina's narrative, too, is laced with imagery. Marina observes a "red flower" that "blossoms" on a woman's sweater. The red smear is blood. The peaceful nature of escape is conveyed by Marina's going "out into a night as dark as chocolate cake with candles made of flickering stars."

There is symbolism in the mountaintop setting to which Marina and Jed flee. The higher location signifies their spiritual journey upward and away from stifling beliefs they cannot accept, and ultimately it is a path followed by all of the novel's young characters. The blood that Mr. Hoskins causes to spatter on Jed's Last Day robe represents the taint the son will bear because of his father's foolish act. Leo's illness is suggestive of the fires of Armageddon. Leo suffers the dehydration and fever that intense heat would cause.

Jed's laptop frequently reappears, especially on the mountaintop, to signify that a technologically advanced society exists outside the encampment. Eventually the laptop is the means by which the emotionally enslaved Myrna Marlow returns to the world of reality. The laptop's cell-phone provides the means to get help. Numbers become a recurring reference point, beginning with Reverend Beelson's insistence that 144 Believers will be saved. Eventually Marina seeks refuge in numbers. She counts minutes, hours, and days as a means to regain some control over her life. Finally, the teenagers resort to numbers in order to be sure that they save all of the children in their care.

Social Sensitivity

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In Armageddon Summer, Yolen and Coville address tough religious, social, and family issues with honesty and sensitivity. While they depict teenagers and children who are victimized, they are sympathetic to the adults who are responsible. Characters like Marina's parents, Jed's father, and Reverend Beelson appear rounded, motivated, and understandable. Within that sensitive context, the authors broach problems of teenage pregnancy, abortion, alcoholism, and AIDS. They also raise questions about religious cults and fundamentalist ideology. The novel includes scenes of violence and parental neglect, but the authors depict their teenage characters in salutary terms of achieving personal growth and social awareness.

Marina's story begins with hard-hitting issues of unwanted teenage pregnancy and habitual infidelity. Myrna Marlow quit high school because she was pregnant with Marina. She rejected an abortion at the insistence of Marina's father Harmon, who wanted children very much. Through knowledge of her mother's past, combined with word of Reverend Beelson's plan to pair off new "Adams and Eves," Marina comes to understand how a teenager might not be ready to bear children. She can view her father's alienation in terms of her mother's lack of readiness for marriage.

Jed understands the anguish an extramarital affair can cause. His mother's infidelity drove his father to find solace in alcohol. The authors sensitively depict Jed yearning for his mother and recalling how he cared lovingly for his drunken father. In addition, the authors also show that the flawed fathers of Marina and Jed love their children. Marina's mother remains a difficult parental figure, but she is shown to achieve greater maturity and independence by the novel's conclusion. In the meantime, her irresponsible behavior furthers her daughter's maturation. Jed's particular reflections about these various problems, as well as polluted air, hunger, and crime, indicate a growing understanding of how people can get caught up in ideas like those preached by Reverend Beelson.

The authors depict the Believers in sensitive terms. They appear to be naive or troubled but generally nice people. Reverend Beelson is depicted sympathetically as a father who lost a son to AIDS. He rejoices when another son returns to him. He is sincere in his convictions and devastated by the turn of events on Armageddon day. The authors complicate the question of Reverend Beelson's responsibility by depicting confused or foolish outsiders at his gate. Nonetheless, they do not whitewash the dangers of charismatic appeal and religious fanaticism. The Believer encampment is armed and fortified. The novel includes violent scenes which children witness. Jed sees his father shoot a person. He then copes with news of his father's violent death.

The Believer religion raises another issue, which the authors again treat with sensitivity to both sides. In accordance with Reverend Beelson's order, Mynra Marlow removes her children from school and teaches them at home. Although she is a high-school dropout, she is depicted as having been an excellent student who can handle essential subjects. However, her poorly written draft and letter to her husband reflect the potential problem with home schooling when a parent is less than qualified. Myrna also has no interest in teaching science, although she provides her son Grahame with the books he asks for.

Positive aspects of home schooling are conveyed through major characters. Marina, who has been taught at home since seventh grade, thinks often of her favorite teacher but never misses her classmates. She has many new friends and pen pals by means of the Internet. Jed remembers that his mother wept when the governor had armed guards placed in schools throughout the state. She wept again when the governor ruled that even kindergarten children had to be checked for weapons.

Ultimately the authors raise questions about a gamut of contemporary issues, including religion, with sensitivity to the fact that teenagers need realistic presentations. Realism extends to dialogue that infrequently incorporates a profane expression. The authors demonstrate sensitivity to gender equality in their portrayals of Marina and Jed as well as Charlie, a male nurse. They present the teenagers' relationship in healthy terms of growing friendship rather than frivolous attraction. The characters emerge more tolerant of others. They have a heightened appreciation of each other and a greater awareness of pitfalls to avoid in life. While neither has found the answer to religion, each has a grasp on faith.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 133

"Coville, Bruce." In Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, vol. 22. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. Biographical entry notable for Coville's comments about the importance of mythic patterns in his children's books.

"Coville, Bruce." In Something about the Author, vol. 77. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994. Biographical overview including Coville's comments about his career development and approach to children's literature.

Yolen, Jane. Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood. New York: Philomel Books, 1981. Contains argument for tough heroines and bold confrontations with evil in children's literature.

"Yolen, Jane (Hyatt)." In Something about the Author, vol. 75. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994. Biographical overview.

Bruce Coville Web Site http://www.brucecoville. com. February 15, 2001. Resource for Coville's life, books, and writing tips.

Jane Yolen Web Site http://www.janeyolen. com. February 15, 2001. Valuable resource for details about Yolen's life, books, and awards.

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