Alice LaPlante’s new novel “Coming of Age at the End of Days” tells the story of Anna, a bright young girl growing up in Silicon Valley who comes under the influence of a Doomsday cult.

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“Coming of Age at the End of Days”

by Alice LaPlante

Atlantic Monthly Press, 301 pp., $25

A most peculiar, preternaturally self-possessed teenager is at the heart of Alice LaPlante’s unsettling new novel, “Coming of Age at the End of Days.”

Bright loner Anna has managed to marginally fit in, getting good grades, playing cello in the school orchestra and toying with “the articles of faith of her peers” — “cheap Maybelline, L’Oreal from Walgreens.” Her no-nonsense mother offers words of encouragement: “People like us, we pretend. We fake it, until we’re into our twenties. … Then we come into our own. Then our weirdnesses become our strength.”

Sardonic mom, a classical pianist, and prickly dad, an amateur scientist obsessed with earthquakes, are Anna’s fiercest if fractious protectors. But even they can’t quip or comfort away the crippling depression into which Anna falls at the age of 16.

“Depression, they call it. Such a flat name for such a ferocious and uncompromising beast. Anna prefers the medieval term. Melancholia. Black bile. A foul humor that steals into your joints, paralyzes your muscles, immobilizes your bones …”

Her parents’ distress only grows when Anna regains her spark, disturbingly, by falling under the spell of a doomsday cult. She’s introduced to it by the new family next door, Silicon Valley drones and their frail but intense 15-year-old son, Lars. When Anna and Lars first meet, he quotes from the Book of Revelation, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse. Its rider was named Death. ”

His words electrify Anna, and she begins to live for the End of Days.

LaPlante, author of the psychological thrillers “A Circle of Wives” and “Turn of Mind,” crafts prose that cuts to the quick and is the perfect vehicle for this dark tale.

Walking through her Northern California suburb, Anna passes “that sea of car dealerships, strip malls, and fast food eateries named after the orchards they replaced … Anna is filled with a sense of exhilaration triggered somehow by the steamed-up windows of the pho shops, the scent of jasmine and lavender wafting from the foot-massage parlors, the brake lights of the cars lined across all four lanes of traffic … Anna finds herself filled with an aching love for everything around her — the last gasp of a doomed civilization.”

As part of her training to serve in the army of the virtuous against the Antichrist, Anna embarks on a furious training regimen that catches the attention of neighbor Jim. Anna’s secret crush, he is seven years her senior, a former high-school football star “living in self-exile” in his parents’ rec room after post-college life goes terribly awry.

He is a kind and levelheaded sounding board for Anna and becomes her ally, along with hissecret crush, young chemistry teacher Ms. Thadeous, whose classroom is a haven for ostracized Anna and Lars.

But it’s Anna’s relationship with her flawed parents that is the most fully fleshed out and affecting of “Coming of Age.” They fumble through their mismatched marriage and the parenting of their adored only child, by turns nurturing, wickedly funny and brutally frank.

Anna, in the way of adolescents testing new identities, is all self-righteous bluster, masking her anxiety at the fragility of her parents’ bond. “Coming of Age at the End of Days” is a compelling read.