Devoted: Review

May 13, 2015 2015, 4 star books, contemporary, Layla 32 ★★★★

Devoted: ReviewDevoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Macmillan, Roaring Brook Press on June 2, 2015
Genres: contemporary, realistic fiction
Pages: 336 pages
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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 don’t know how to convince you to read Devoted, but I think you should. It’s not the sort of thing I usually pick up – I do read broadly, but my favorite books are more likely to be sci-fi or fantasy than contemporaries – but I’m glad that I did, in this case.

Devoted hasn’t seemed to receive much attention so far and I’m not sure why? Because this book is an excellent, though very quiet, character study. And in addition to this, it’s beautifully written and it engages with many issues that are central to young adult literature. It’s a good one, you all. (And I don’t think you need to be religious or Christian to read it; do not be scared off by the title or the synopsis. I grew up in an interfaith household that was super different from this, and liked it anyway.)

The central premise is as follows: seventeen year-old Rachel has grown up in a religious Christian household that adheres fairly strictly to Biblical teachings. (It’s suggested that they’re members of the Quiverfull movement.) The family homeschools and they’re regular church-goers – as an older sister who’s training to become a wife and mother, Rachel is responsible for the care and keeping of her younger siblings. Rachel’s father holds authority over the household – Rachel isn’t allowed to go places unaccompanied, she can’t read A Wrinkle in Time without her father’s say-so, and he’s responsible for her spiritual guidance.

When the story begins, Rachel is already experiencing doubt about the course her life is supposed to follow – she knows that, like her sister, she’ll be married and become a mother soon, and while she loves her brothers and sisters, she doesn’t feel ready. She’s also intellectually curious (and can’t understand why loving A Wrinkle in Time is incompatible with loving God, for example) and has fought to learn how to do things that are different from what her family wants for her (i.e., she learns to create and manage a website for her dad’s business).

When her father lectures them one night about Lauren, a young woman who was exiled from their community but has since returned to their small town, Rachel is curious. Though she’s been forbidden from speaking to Lauren, Rachel finds her website late one night and sends her a sympathetic email. The plot takes off from there: Rachel isn’t sure that she wants this life for herself and Lauren, who escaped it several years ago, seems to offer a way out.

What I liked about this book: I loved Mathieu’s development of Rachel as a character. When I say that this novel is an excellent character study, I mean it – the story is told through a first person narrative, and Rachel’s voice is compelling and interesting. I’m glad Mathieu chose to tell the story that way – being inside Rachel’s head really brings the complexities of her situation to life, and one of the things I very much enjoyed about the novel was how well it deals with those complexities. That is to say that the novel doesn’t over-simplify Rachel’s situation; instead, it really engages with her love for her family, her very real devotion to God, and how heartbreaking it is for her to have to even consider a new way of living.

This trend continues through the novel’s portrayal of Rachel’s relationship to her own faith. While Lauren, the young woman who escaped from Rachel’s community years earlier, wants nothing to do with any form of organized religion, Rachel finds that her faith changes and becomes stronger after leaving her family. While I didn’t particularly care where Rachel ended up – I have zero investment in whether her character has faith or doesn’t – I liked that the novel presented different responses to similar crises of faith. Although Lauren and Rachel initially fight over whether Rachel should reject organized religion entirely, they eventually commit to letting the other be free to make their own decisions (and I really liked this, because it affirms their friendship as a place where both of them are free to figure out who they are with the other’s support). In the absence of their families, Rachel and Lauren find a new family in each other. And strong female friendships – and found families – are things I really enjoy reading about, so I really appreciated how well this discussion was handled in the text.

Another really welcome aspect to this story for me was its almost total lack of a romantic relationship. There is admittedly a boy in whom Rachel becomes interested (and spoiler alert, he gives her the L’Engle books she hasn’t read! SWOON ALERT), View Spoiler » The story is, as a whole, characterized by an openness to possibilities for Rachel, and I think the addition of a romantic relationship would have shut some of that down.

Although a religious community is the backdrop for the story, Devoted really deals with themes that are fairly common to young adult literature: how do your parents’ choices affect your life and the choices you make? what does it mean to be an individual who’s also a part of a community? how do you negotiate between the demands that different relationships make on you? Because of this – and because the writing and characterization are really beautifully done – I loved this book. I will admit that it is also may be the second book all year to make me cry. (Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Said Goodbye was the first.) I’m not sure why this book hit me so strongly in the feels, but it totally did.

Is this book on anyone else’s radar? If you’ve read it, what’d you think?

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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.





32 Responses to “Devoted: Review”

  1. Amanda

    I saw this on netgalley but decided not to request it because I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to read, especially given the deep religious overtones; however, after reading your review I may have to give it a chance.
    Amanda recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books in My Beach Bag

  2. J. Oh

    Thank you so much for writing about this book! I hadn’t heard about it before, but I’m definitely interested in reading it. As a Christian, I often feel like mainstream contemporary fiction doesn’t represent Christians well–and I’m not sure how I’ll feel about this one after I read it, but I feel hopeful about it. In any case, I’m excited to read it.

    • Layla

      You’ll have to let me know whether you felt like this represented Christianity well or not. I think it’s pretty down with Christianity as a whole – Rachel does remain Christian after she leaves her family and the quiverfull movement (and continues exploring other Christian churches). I think it’s more negative about the quiverfull movement than it is about Christianity as a monolith – the book, to me at least, seems to think that Christianity is very much *not* that, and that our main character’s faith is something that is important and necessary to her.
      Layla recently posted…Poison is Not Polite: exclusive cover reveal + giveaway

  3. Larissa

    I’m not going to lie, I am the type of person who shies away from religious themed books. However, your review has really piqued my interest to read Devoted. Also so has reading and loving another book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. It deals more with the cult side of things though. Still, it involves quite a heavy level of devotion and faith. I found myself quite compelled by the ideas and questioning the main character does and I feel like the books would be similar in that case.

    I find it interesting in Devoted the main character still holds on to her faith despite her experiences. Usually you do read about those complete rejections of faith after it being so prevalent. I also feel like seeing an in depth character study of Rachel would be quite fascinating, and contrasting & comparing her to Lauren. So glad to hear that there is a wonderful female friendship between the two characters. I always love it when a YA story highlights the importance of friendship. The lack of romance also does make sense, and with the way you described the story’s focal point being the “openness to possibilities for Rachel” the lack of romance becomes beautiful in a way.

    Brilliant review Layla! (: This one is certainly on my radar now.
    Larissa recently posted…Midnight Madness Newsletter (83)

    • Layla

      I mean, about the same here? I’m not usually one to gravitate towards novels about religion (it can be a hard thing to handle well, and I’m particularly sensitive to something that comes off as overly preachy to me). But I think Devoted deals with it well – it’s not as much about whether people should have faith or not – not the focus of this book at all! – but how this particular character’s faith impacts her relationships and her life choices. And I did really like that her faith gets stronger after she leaves her family? It felt like the right choice for the story that Mathieu was trying to tell, and it made sense for the character. (I also really liked that it’s *a* choice someone from that environment can make, and not the only choice – Lauren’s narrative, for example, demonstrates that there are other possible choices too.) And, yeah that was my feeling for the book as a whole – it’s very much something that opens Rachel up to different possibilities, rather than closing doors for her. Do read it, and if you do, let me know how you feel about it!
      Layla recently posted…Poison is Not Polite: exclusive cover reveal + giveaway

    • Layla

      Same here, I promise. (To be fair, I like books about religion, but usually non-fiction books? And I’m hard-pressed to think of another YA book that deals with religion in a way I liked as much … which is not to say that it doesn’t exist, just that I can’t think of it at the moment. Dumb brain! :)) It’s not really about religion (I don’t think Mathieu has any particular religious agenda here) as much as it is about how the character’s faith impacts her identity, her relationships with her family, and her situation in a larger religious community. And like, what it means for those things to be thrown into doubt. It’s a good one. I really liked it, and hope you pick it up at some point if you feel like it!
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

    • Layla

      Oooh. I haven’t read that yet, but I loved her writing and the way she approached Rachel’s character here, so I’d happily pick up something else she wrote. What’d you like about “The Truth About Alice”? I’m curious about it.

      ME NEITHER I PROMISE. (I usually feel pretty disinterested in representations of faith in my fiction – at the very least, I want things to be complicated and not easily resolved. Anyway, there are some exceptions to that, certainly, and this was one of them.)
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

      • Cindy Van Wilder

        Oh, if you haven’t read The truth about Alice, you should definitely pick it up ;) It deals with bullying & slut shaming in a very realistic & sensitive way, it has a great love story and it’s very deftly done. I really enjoy this debut novel!
        Cindy Van Wilder recently posted…[Review] Black Iris by Leah Raeder

  4. Carina Olsen

    Awesome review Layla :D I’m so glad you mostly loved this book. <3 I do think it looks so stunning. But not for me just yet, sigh. I need more romance in my books, lol :) I also read a different book by this author, which I did not like :( but still curious about this one. <3 And you do make it sound pretty good ;) I'm so glad you liked it a lot. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…UK Cover Reveal: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

    • Layla

      There isn’t really any romance in here (which worked for me, since I sometimes feel like romances can upstage the parts of the story that are more interesting to me) – but I can see how that would not work for you! There’s at least not a love triangle though ;) so you’d be ok there! I haven’t read anything else by her – do you remember what you didn’t like?

      I really liked this; if you give it a try, let me know what you thought. I’m curious if other people will respond to this as strongly as I did (and very open to the possibility that they might not!).
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

      • Carina Olsen

        Aw, but, I need romance, lol :D But I’m glad it worked for you. <3 Yay for no love triangle at least :D That is always a plus. <3 It was The Truth About Alice that I didn't enjoy.. it had lots of issues, sadly :( Curious to see what you would think of it ;p I'll let you know if I read it. <3 But yeah, I don't think I'm reading it, hih :) It do seem like a book that many will love, though :D
        Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #188

    • Layla

      You should pick this up, then! The book is really, really well-written and developed. I also don’t read a ton of realistic YA – and was skeptical about reading one about religion, tbh – but I loved this. I loved Rachel’s character, I thought it dealt with complicated issues really well, and I was also pretty deeply moved by it (in ways that totally surprised me).
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

  5. Veronika

    I can’t wait to read this book. I’ve been interested for a while but was really afraid it might be a bit “too religious” for my taste. Not that there’s anything wrong with religion but I don’t like when it feels as though the author is trying to force his/her belief on the reader. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    Lovely review. :)
    Veronika recently posted…Kiera Cass – The Heir (The Selection #4)

    • Layla

      I felt like this was very much the opposite of that, so maybe give it a try! I’m normally pretty sensitive to being preached to, and didn’t pick up on that in this read at all. I don’t think Mathieu has any particular axe to grind here either – the book seems to me to be using religion to think through issues that are common to young adult literature. I don’t think it actually has any investment in the character’s faith or not? Just more what that faith means for her and her social relationships.
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

  6. Eileen

    I agree this book hasn’t been getting as much attention as I think it should. I’ve seen it around but haven’t heard a lot about it. Now I haven’t read it yet but the whole premise just sounds like a worthy-read! I think religion is a hard topic to tackle so if it’s done well, I’ll be reading it :D
    Eileen recently posted…WoW #45: Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

    • Layla

      I think it’s done really well. It’s really using religion as a way to think through issues that a lot of YA lit deals with, and it does it in what (for me) felt like a lovely and not-preachy way. Which is to say that I don’t think the book is either for or against religion; it’s more curious and open about the role of religion in this particular character’s life (and what it means for her relationships with her family members and broader communities). I really liked this.

      If you get a chance, read it! :)
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

    • Layla

      Oh gooooood. I really haven’t seen too many other reviews of it so far, so I’m glad it’s on other folks’ radars! It’s an excellent book and deserves attention. :)
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

  7. Sarah

    This sounds great, and in searching for it on Goodreads, I just found out that Hilary Duff ALSO wrote a book called devoted. Now I’ve had my morning giggle, so double win!

    • Layla

      Bahaha, I saw that too. I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that I very much prefer this Devoted (nothing against Hilary Duff, though, ’cause I loved her in Cadet Kelly).
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

  8. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    Well, I have seen this book around and I have wondered about reading it or not… I must confess I didn’t request it because I felt like the overly religiousness of the beginning of the book with her father being so in control of everything will make me angry and make me want to stop reading…

    But after reading your review I feel like I really need to give this one a try and read it! A book that is entirely about choices and character growth is something I’d love to read for sure!

    Great review Layla!
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…5 TO 1 by Holly Bodger: Review & Giveaway!!!

    • Layla

      I mean, I think the book uses religion as a backdrop without being itself a religious read (this is to say that I don’t know what Mathieu’s religious beliefs are from reading the book, and it doesn’t seem to me to be *about* whether one should be religious or not as much as it is about someone in a religious community – it’s not preachy at all, is what I’m saying. Does that make sense?).

      You might still be angry at how much her father is in control of everything, though! (I was.) It’s definitely not easy, and I really felt for Rachel.

      I think you should give it a try! It is about choices and character growth, so I think you might like it if you read it. :)
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review

  9. Wendy Darling

    Heeeeey, I requested this from Macmillan but it never came–I should have been paying more attention when they asked if I’d gotten everything I asked for, clearly!

    This sounds like a wonderful contemporary, and I must read it. Thanks for the review/nudge, miss. Quiet character studies aren’t the types of books that garner all the attention, but they’re really my favorite kinds of realistic YA fiction.

    • Layla

      If you get the chance to read it, you should. I think you’ll like it! It is a really good contemporary, and since that is not normally my jam, you should believe me. :) I really liked it and was surprised by how moved I was by it – I think I very much prefer stuff like this to quirkier contemporaries.

      Share your feels if and when you read, please!
      Layla recently posted…Devoted: Review