Friday, June 12, 2020

"Agnes at the End of the World"

Kelly McWilliams is a mixed-race writer who has always gravitated towards stories about crossing boundaries and forging new identities. For this and so many other reasons, young adult literature will always be close to her heart. Her novel, Agnes at the End of the World, benefited from a We Need Diverse Books Mentorship.

McWilliams has loved crafting stories all her life, and her very first novel, Doormat, was published when she was just fifteen-years old. She has also worked as a staff writer for Romper, covering issues important to women and families. She lives in Colorado with her partner and young daughter.

McWilliams applied the Page 69 Test to Agnes at the End of the World and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 10


Cherish this holy community, for it is your only bastion against the heat of hell.
–Prophet Jacob Rollins

At the Kings’ after-church gathering, Beth leaned against the wall of the dairy barn, struggling to imagine her life after Agnes’s wedding in two weeks’ time.

No matter how she sliced it, that life looked miserable.

In the pasture below, her siblings—all except Ezekiel, who’d gone home with Agnes—played the Apocalypse Game with the ten little King children. Beth, caught in the sticky web of her thoughts, twined her braid around her knuckles and silently fumed.

Did anyone care how much harder her life was about to become? How much responsibility she’d be forced to shoulder, just to keep the kids dressed, fed, alive?

She wasn’t sure she could manage it, and Lord knew she’d have no help from anyone.

Then the Jamesons arrived—Cory with his lesser brothers and Magda—and Beth smiled. Smoothing the waist of her prairie dress, she pushed away from the wall, knowing whose eyes would find her.
I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that the page 69 test plunges readers not into Agnes’s perspective—which comprises the majority of the book—but into her sister Beth’s point of view.

On page 69, you can feel Beth’s simmering dissatisfaction with Red Creek and its ways. Agnes is about to be married to a much older patriarch. Beth is terrified of losing her older sister, who is essentially the head of their household. (And she’s deeply annoyed that her life is about to get harder—one fewer girl in the household means more work for Beth, in this toxic, patriarchal society.) But Beth is also easily distracted by the handsome Cory Jameson. You can tell, I think, that she is not a hero at heart. At fifteen, Beth thinks much the same way I myself did as a girl. Beth’s sister Agnes, on the other hand, will soon transform from an oppressed member of a cult society into a leader in her own right—practically a superhero.

I love the page 69 test for this book. It provides a crystal-clear snapshot of what Agnes is rebelling against—and it does so from the perspective of her still-brainwashed, conflicted younger sister. I would keep reading, if I do say so myself! But then, fifteen-year old Beth, so human and so flawed, is nothing if not charming. Her perspective was always a joy to write!

--Marshal Zeringue