About the Book
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.
Jen Mathieu's young adult novel Devoted explores the life of Rachel Walker, a 17-year-old girl whose inquisitive spirit clashes with her conservative fundamentalist upbringing. One of ten siblings, Rachel has begun questioning the strict patriarchal rules that govern her day to day life; her curiosity grows increasingly strong when her mother miscarries; her eldest sister, just a couple of years older than she is, announces her second pregnancy; and as the next-oldest sister she's next in line to be barefoot and pregnant.
The tight restrictions on their lifestyle, including the way they dress, speak, and behave, are meant to keep her family and church members closer to God and away from worldly sins, and yet Rachel struggles with her faith because of these restrictions and the inevitable contradictions that arise between their church's and her own interpretation of the Bible. Surprisingly, Rachel is allowed to use a computer (to help manage the Walker landscaping service business) and drive (albeit only the ancient family van). But when her parents discover that she's been using these privileges to contact someone who's been, for all intents and purposes, excommunicated, she's given an ultimatum--leave, or attend Journey of Faith, a Christian brainwashing camp.
Mathieu infuses Rachel's story with sensitivity and tries to approach aspects of this cultish religion from many sides: from her pious but loving little sister Ruth, her bossy older sister Faith, their fearful and depressed mother, as well as rebellious Lauren whose dramatic exit from the sect is still a verboten topic 6 years later. This treatment manages to acknowledge some good things, the best intentions of the people who came up with the Quiverfull movement's rules, but ultimately exposes its backwards and often draconian principles, too.
The aptly named Jennifer Grace narrates the audiobook beautifully, shifting easily from the holier-than-thou attitudes of the believers to Rachel's pained and often fearful or embarrassed inner monologues. Mathieu also manages to throw some levity into the mix, comic relief provided mostly by Mark, a boy whose secular upbringing creates a stark contrast between the lives of those inside and outside the Calvary Christian Church.
I started out reading and listening to this book and questioning why I had even agreed to review it. As a lapsed Catholic, I'm not very comfortable with the topic of religion in general. I can barely stand to read factual stories (like the recent Duggars news) or even watch satirical TV shows (like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) about it, let alone listen to or read about a non-mainstream version of Christianity. However, I quickly became invested in Rachel's story. She's so torn between the world she knows and the world she wants to know. It's not so much that she doesn't believe in God, but that she can't reconcile her thoughts and feelings with the way she's forced to practice her faith. Mathieu steers clear of the more sordid implications behind the misogynistic dogma (child molestation, spousal abuse or polygamy, and other strange repercussions like Andrea Yates's drowning of five of her children to save their souls). Instead she focuses on autonomy, the rights of women and children, and Rachel's love for her family. All in all, Devoted is a compelling coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Biblical literalism movement.
About the Author
Jennifer Mathieu is a writer and English teacher who lives in Texas with her family. A native of the East Coast and a former journalist, she enjoys writing contemporary young adult fiction that treats teenagers like real people. She loves to eat and hates to cook. You can find more fun facts about her and her books at www.jennifermathieu.com. Tweet @jenmathieu and find her on Facebook.
Blog Tour Schedule
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June 13: ReadingTeen.net | @readingteen
June 14: ReadNowSleepLater.org | @mslbooks
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