Monday, June 8, 2015

Review | Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Publish Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher
Find It: Goodreads / Amazon 


Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul. (Goodreads) 


Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

My Thoughts:  It was only recently that I read and fell in love with The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu. Like, fell HARD in love with it. And for good reason - that book is not only award-winning but it is hard-hitting issues contemporary, which is what I love, love, love. I felt pretty sure that I would fall hard for Devoted too because not only am I very author-loyal, but I love books about young people with ties to God and faith, and also books about young people that are asking questions about religion and seeking out where they fit in where 'religion' is concerned. 

Honestly, I could eat these books for breakfast because this is such a realistic contemporary issue, right? YES. 

So when I inhaled Devoted earlier this year, I was thrilled at how much I loved it, and how well it was written, and how wonderfully and fairly I felt that the author represented this main character. And how easily this author fell onto my instant-read list. Devoted has several of the same qualities that The Truth About Alice had: a strong, quiet main character that I loved. But these books are very different and I loved the way they both showcase the talents of this author, the way she is able to write something that punched me in the gut and then something that was not as hard-hitting, but equally as strong and forceful. 

I really want people to pick up this book and read it. It is SO discussable. 

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I was hooked by the very first sentence: James Fulton is sweating like a sinner in church. Okay, down here in the South, in the place where I live, that is a real saying, and I know what it means. (Jennifer talks about beginning the book with this sentence in an interview about Devoted here.) The book opens with main character Rachel witnessing one of her peers standing in front of her church, confessing a sin, and basically asking the forgiveness of the congregation as well as their help with his not straying again. Now, not all churches require congregations to stand up and confess sins before the entire church, but there are some in my town that do. I know people that have had to do this, and I know how this made them feel immediately after and in the long-term. So YES, this sentence: it hooked me, like BOOM. The difference between what I know and the story in this book is that I do not have experience with a church like the one represented in this book, and that is why I loved this book so much - I love reading about people that have different experiences than I do. There is so much to learn from these stories. 

Main character Rachel Walker is affected by James Fulton's public confession too. She thinks about it quite a bit. She thinks about it a little here and there, and she thinks about other things too - things that she knows she probably shouldn't. Things like how she feels anxious at the prospect that she will marry very young and then have several children because she's almost at that age already...and also how she would really love to read more and learn more instead. And why can't she go to college like her brothers? Rachel feels like a bad Christian because she has these thoughts - her older sister Faith seemed to accept marrying young and having children with such ease. Faith also seems so good at it. Even her younger sister Ruth doesn't seem to have any trouble accepting that this is their future, but they can't talk about these things because they cannot let one another know that they have these thoughts or questions - Rachel lives alone with her thoughts. And Rachel can't seem to get anything right - she bumbles the words in her prayers, her movements seem jerky and clunky as she does so. much. housework. (unlike Faith, who moves about like she's floating on air), and she's just so tired all of the time. How does Faith never seem to get tired after taking care of ten children? HOW DOES EVERYONE SEEM TO BE SO GOOD AT THIS LIFESTYLE EXCEPT FOR RACHEL? 

She really feels bad about these thoughts she is having, these struggles, and she wants to be better, but she can't seem to find the words to pray and these thoughts, they just creep back into her head. She shouldn't feel jealous of her sisters, that's wrong. She shouldn't want other things out of life than being a wife and mother, but she maybe possibly does. Maybe. Possibly. Maybe. 

She doesn't know! 

And then Lauren moves back into town. Lauren, the one that moved away a while back, the one that was "rebellious" - the one that did some things that she shouldn't. Moving away meant that Rachel and the rest of the church could not communicate with her at all, not even her parents - this is the rules. But Rachel feels compassion when she thinks of Lauren and she wants her to know she isn't completely alone. The internet is against the rules. Communication with Lauren is off-limits. But Rachel can't help but reach out...and here is where a seed is planted.  

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I love so many things about this book, but the thing that resonated with me most deeply is the fact that Author Jennifer Mathieu is able to write about Rachel's experience with a grace that never tarnishes it. Rachel has so many questions about her church, about the rules she is having to follow, things like that - like normal teenagers do at this age. I love the way Rachel is thinking outside of the box, like: hey, this and this that you are teaching me, these things are conflicting, what's with that? What's even better about it is that even in this search for her own truth, Rachel really tries to seek out what is right; she wants to honor both her family and her faith, even in the midst of a time that is very trying to her. I cannot stress to you all how much I absolutely love and respect this about this character. Rachel Walker has to be one of my favorites ever. 

I also love that she has a very quiet strength about her. Rachel isn't sure what her limits are, she is figuring them out. She does know that they are being tested under the weight of all of the rules in the house and that she may have to do something about it, something big. She digs deep and finds courage somewhere inside of herself and makes some changes to her life. So hard to do, you guys. In doing hard things, Rachel shows us her vulnerable places and her strong places and also where she wishes things could be different but cannot. She stays true to herself, which is major, major in this story, and I just want everyone to experience these parts of the story so, so much. 

Some of you will want to know if there is a romance in the book and to be honest, not really. This book is really mostly about Rachel's experiences in questioning what she has always been taught and searching for what she truly believes. At one point in the story, there is a young man and Rachel does notice his looks, but it never really goes further than that. So, I would say that there is something that I would call a crush. This book is not a romance. 

This book, this book. I mean, it does me so much GREAT to read books like this, about experiences that are different than mine! I'm so grateful for what I feel is a respectful interpretation of this story because when I closed the book, I JUST LOVED IT SO MUCH, and I sent messages to friends about how I thought they would really enjoy it. And later, a few weeks later, I read the book again. I'll say it again: I've read this book twice, and I enjoyed it even more the second time. 

I recommend Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu to readers that enjoy young adult contemporary with realistic fiction and readers that enjoy reading about experiences other than their own. There is so much inside of this story, so much. 

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Devoted will appeal to fans of:

Young Adult Contemporary with Realistic Fiction
Romance: Very subtle crush, but not a major plot point. 
Strong main characters. 

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
is currently available for purchase.

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1 comment:

  1. Seriously, Devoted sounds SO fascinating. I'm always interested in seeing how religion is tackled in YA, because there are so many perspectives. And Mathieu is definitely doing something I rarely read about in her novel! I'm very curious about it after seeing your review, so I might just have to check it out.

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