by Jennifer Mathieu
Expected Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
View at the Traffic light:
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.
I’ve read a handful of books that deal with teens raised in strict, fundamentalist homes, but none quite like Devoted. The difference is the books I’ve read in YA previously have often been based around end-of-the-world cults. It’s a type of fundamentalism, certainly, but it’s different than the type portrayed in Devoted. In books that deal with doomsday predictions, there’s a sense of urgency in both the books and the characters, and there’s really none of that here for the most part. Rachel’s life is controlled, measured, and ruled tightly, but for her there’s no ending point. This isn’t what her family is doing to be prepared for the end of the world; this is what her family is doing to pass onto future generations. It’s expected that as Rachel grows up, she’ll court a nice, Christian boy and work on starting to expand her own family right away.
Devoted is a quiet book. There’s not much action, except for Rachel’s internal struggles. See, Rachel is clever and sharp. She’s good at learning and she likes it, but the rules of her church and family tell her that her place is to grow up to be a good wife and mother, not to pursue her own interest like education. Rachel believes, but she struggles with the pressures placed on her versus her innate nature. Things come to a head when she starts emailing Lauren, a girl who previously left Rachel’s church and made her way in the outside world, but recently had to move back to town.
Up to this point of the story, I had been enjoying Devoted, but I wasn’t awed. It was an interesting exploration, but not much more than that. However, at the halfway point, the book became something different. It deviated from the course I was expecting, and I was incredibly grateful for it. I expected Devoted to end with Rachel realizing she needs to live her life outside the church, so I was thrown when this moment happened earlier, but what it allowed was wonderful. From the outside looking in, it’s pretty easy to realize that Rachel’s church has most of the signs of being a cult. It’s harder for her to realize that, and I wasn’t expecting the story make Rachel really confront her upbringing, but it did.
Staying inside is hard for Rachel. But being on the outside is hard too, and Rachel struggles with that. Lauren is a good friend and resource for Rachel, but she has her own flaws. In fact, I really loved Lauren’s characterization. This was a girl who had gotten out, but who had fallen out of a bad situation and then into some other potentially bad situations. She felt liberated because at least those choices were her own, but then she finds herself having to return to her hometown anyway and confront her upbringing in a pretty in-the-face way through Rachel. But the beauty of it all is that both Rachel and Lauren get to make their own choices, and it’s wonderful to Rachel struggle and grow so much from where she was at the beginning of Devoted.
Even for a contemporary, Devoted is a quiet book. It’s thoughtful and considerate and makes what I found to be some bold choices that ultimately made the story better. I definitely recommend this one for it’s interesting portrayal of Rachel’s upbringing and how much it ends up supporting her autonomy in the end. 4/5 cupcakes.