Summary: After the Ecological Revolution, Katherine in her family live in a community where only Father, their leader, is allowed to ask questions. But when Katherine finds out her best friend’s sister has disappeared, the questions she already had increase exponentially in number. Chastised by her community for her curiosity, Katherine is threatened with being assigned manual labour when she is finished school and then is publicly humiliated when her long hair is cut short in front of her classmates. Daunted but compelled to find out the truth, Katherine continues to investigate, each discovery leading her further down a rabbit hole she never could have imagined.
Number of Pages: 217
Age Range: 15-18
Review: What intrigues me about What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins is the double-entendre of the title. Katherine is trying to find Serenity, her best friend’s little sister, but she’s also trying to find serenity in a Community that constantly tries to control who she is. Except upon finishing the book I realised Katherine doesn’t actually find her. Yes, she does know where Serenity, the person, is by the end, but Serenity never actually appears in the story. She’s a major catalyst in Katherine’s life, but remains behind-the-scenes.
And without giving too much away, the idea of serenity is a bit elusive too. When Katherine realises everything she has been looking for exists in her family, it is a beautiful moment.
It’s an intellectual read as Collins explores humanity’s quest for perfection, the necessity of questioning especially when people tell you not to and the concept of free will. Katherine is a truly admirable character. Despite all the resistance she meets, the punishments the Community threats her with, the perceived distance between her and her parents, and the abandonment by the boy she had a crush on, Katherine doggedly persists in the pursuit of truth and the answers to the many, many questions she has.
The answers are astounding. For a girl raised in such a sheltered Community, Katherine is vastly out of her depth but repeatedly shows courage as she pushes through anyway. Protecting her brother and her parents motivates her to continue to take risks and love for her best friend drives her to find Serenity at all costs.
There’s a lot I can’t say, because I don’t want to wreck the suspense and surprise of the story, but suffice it to say it’s a book I will be considering for days.
“Much of the greatness of the human spirit
can be seen in our passionate pursuit
of knowledge, truth, justice, beauty, perfection, and love.
At the same time, few things are so haunting
as the stories of the very greatest seekers falling short.” – Os Guiness, from The Call in What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins, on the dedication page
“When the first flakes fall
We stop what we are doing
As if already frozen.
And even though we know
That bitter cold is coming
For some reason
And run outside
Dancing.” – Katherine from What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins, page 11
“I think of Mom. My heart feels heavy and I can hardly explain why. It has something to do with her rye bread and low table and all the things she does for me and Scott, the way she held back her sobs and we were out of the Town Circle, something to do with how difficult I can be. All along, I’ve thought I was the intelligent one, the one who sees the problems. I assumed that I’m the only one willing to risk for the truth. I’ve judged Mom because I thought she was a simpleton to believe in a perfect Community. Now I believe that Mom knows things she doesn’t talk about and I feel differently about her, loyal, protective, admiring.
Her grief has touched me. Maybe I don’t understand her, but there is something very brave about her wanting to love, wanting to grow life in an imperfect place.” – Katherine from What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins, pages 93-94
“I know now Anna would do anything for me. And it’s nice for a minute just to enjoy this. I have a best friend who knows and trusts me. I can never be alone again, even if we are separated.” – Katherine from What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins, pages 127-128
“I wonder if family relationships have always been like this, even before the Ecological Revolution, with so much left unspoken between a parent and a child. I wonder if my parents just now fought the urge to ask, ‘Where were you after school? Why are you covered in dirt? How did you scratch your shin? Why do you seem upset this week? Have you been crying? What’s on your mind? Somehow, I think they do.” – Katherine from What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins, pages 137-138
“What happens to the unuttered?
Or inappropriate words that are swallowed?
Feelings too raw to write down?
Or questions never asked?
Do they disappear?
Or explode?” – Katherine from What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins, page 161