Tag: self-discovery

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer Mathieu

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer MathieuDevoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Macmillan on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Religious, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

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.

Even if you don’t usually read Contemporary YA, or fiction that focuses on religion in any shape or form, I would urge you to give Devoted a chance. Mathieu has crafted a beautiful story depicting a journey (of the heart) of a seventeen year-old MC (eighteen by the end of the book) I grew to love. This is probably another top read of mine for 2015 so far. It’s true–I loved this book and was kind of glum when it was over. But there’s a re-read in store for me soon and that makes me very happy!

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Once in awhile a book comes along that you’re left thinking about long after you turn the last page. That happened to me with this book. I was lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of Devoted via Netgalley. Thank you, Macmillan!

What I Loved:

Rachel’s Voice: Rachel’s character is one of the best things about this book—she maintains a sensitive and thoughtful nature throughout everything she goes through. You would think that after growing up within a restricting environment and being forced to attend church several times a week, that Rachel wouldn’t want anything to do with church after she leaves the community. However, this isn’t the case, and though others who leave her church end up never wanting to be a part of anything religious ever again, Rachel is curious about other denominations. She recognizes that not every church is the same—not ever religious community is oppressive and restricting.

“But I can’t possibly know if all churches are the same if I’ve ever been to one in my whole life.”

Rachel loves to read! This may be one reason why she develops a desire for more than what her family and church community offer her. When her father discovers her reading one of her favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, she is reprimanded:

“ ‘I looked through this book, Rachel, and it troubles me. It involved magic and time travel, among other questionable things.’ ”

Well, if I was there, I would have said something to Mr. Walker. I would have asked him where in the Bible is time travel referenced as being “questionable” or wrong. If you ask me, I think time travel would probably be one of God’s favorite activities. Come on, Mr. Walker!

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Look at Rachel’s interior response to this situation—to the loss of her beloved book:

“But there’s another deeper part of me that wants to jump up and cry out. To tell Dad that in the book, Mrs. Who quotes Scripture, telling the children that the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And that Meg saves her brother because she loves him and light wins over darkness, and isn’t that something? Doesn’t love of family count as good? As godly? And doesn’t Proverbs say that the heart of the righteous studieth how to answer? Doesn’t that mean that pondering, wondering, questioning is all right? That books that make us think should be allowed?”

Rachel’s unvoiced response is beautiful and sensitive and wise. She understands things on a deeper level, and shows insight that her father would do well to hear. It’s interesting because A Wrinkle in Time was one of the four books I focused on in my master’s thesis—a thesis looking at spirituality in four British and American works of fantasy. I even connected themes in these four books with several Biblical retellings for children, to show how the spirituality in these fantasy books can be connected with the spirituality in sacred texts. Needless to say, you can tell that I applauded Rachel’s thoughts on A Wrinkle in Time!

The positive faith aspects: Even though it’s clear that Rachel has been living with a community that restricts women and is extremely legalistic, when Rachel leaves the community, she doesn’t turn her back completely on her faith. In other words, she maintains a faith—a faith that is her own, and that doesn’t necessarily look the way that the “religion” of her community looked like. I appreciated this—because the author didn’t create a simply construction that reflected a girl leaving an oppressive religious culture and completely forgetting about her own spirituality. Rachel still communicates with God, and express interest in church communities that are different than her own. I felt that Mathieu’s treatment of this aspect of the story was well-done and memorable.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

This book depicts a spirituality that is not necessarily positive for those who are practicing it—especially the females. The MC, Rachel, desires to do more than what her religious community deems worthy for a woman. Rather than just stay at home and bear children, Rachel considers there is more to life than this, at least for her. However, her desire as a woman within her community is not one she is supposed to have, and when she voices this desire, problems arise.

It probably seems normal to many of us that as they grow older girls should have choices, and they should have the freedom to make choices. However, Rachel Walker’s community doesn’t think this way, and this lack of control over her own destiny becomes almost oppressive. Her journey towards breaking away from this kind of oppression is one I (and probably most readers) celebrated in the book, and as the narrative progresses, Rachel becomes more confident and begins to understand that though her family and a religious community might try to hold her back, God doesn’t necessarily do the same.

“What if God is saying Rachel, what is it you plan on doing now that I’ve gifted you with this mind and this heart and this itch to know about the deepest parts of the ocean and the highest crests of the mountains and the darkest edges of space?”

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoy Contemporary YA, give this book a chance. Even if you aren’t religious or even if you’re anti-religious, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy (I hope!) this story. It’s a fantastic new release from an author that I will be watching to see if she might write about any of the other characters in Devoted. I’m really hoping for that!

What did you think of Devoted? Are there other Young Adult books dealing with religion or spirituality that you think I should check out?

five-stars
What Katie Read

Middle Grade Review (with donuts!): Absolutely Almost (2014) by Lisa Graff

Middle Grade Review (with donuts!): Absolutely Almost (2014) by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Published by Penguin on June 12th 2014
Genres: Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

From the author of the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love. Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself. A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules. (GoodReads)

Suggested age range: 9 and up

Illuminations of Spirituality:

“You couldn’t get where you were going without knowing where you’d been.”

Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Lisa Graff’s books are spiritually deep, in my opinion, but they aren’t religious in any way. The protagonist, native New Yorker, Albie, is figuring out who he is in the story, but this isn’t a typical “discovery of one’s identity story.” We watch Albie navigating his struggles in school, making new friends, and dealing with bullies. It’s through his relationships with others that he find authentic connection that ultimately affects the way he sees himself. Calista who watches Albie every day after school is fabulous! She lets Albie use his allowance to buy a donut every day, and donuts are near and dear to Albie’s heart. Just wait for the drawings of Donut Man towards the end of the story! Calista uses the figure of Donut Man to encourage Albie with a valuable message that ends up affecting him in a profound way.

The quote I included at the beginning of this section reflects a word of wisdom Albie receives in the story. We have to start somewhere to get to somewhere else, even if that place doesn’t seem very appealing or much to be proud of. These insightful quotes throughout Graff’s story are like little gems you want to highlight and hold onto.

Who Might Want to Read This Book:

If you read and loved any of Lisa Graff’s other books, like A Tangle of Knots, or books by Jennifer Holm, I think you’ll love this. Many of us know what it’s like to struggle with something, especially when it comes to academics, but how often do authors effectively represent the perspective of a struggling middle grade student? Graff has pulled this off flawlessly in my opinion, and the result is a refreshing and luminous narrative about Albie—honest and kind Albie, who is valuable because of who he is, and not what he can do. This is a good pick for struggling readers, but readers who appreciate an insightful realistic narrative would do well to pick this one up.

The Final Illumination:

As I read this book, it reminded me of how often I judge by appearances without reflecting on what might be going on inside a person. The interesting thing about the story is that we do know what’s going on inside Albie, but those around him often don’t. So WE understand why he acts the way he does, but many of the kids and adults around Albie don’t. It’s a good reminder of the way that people are quick to judge based on outward appearances, but if we take a step back and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we often will respond differently. I loved this aspect of the story–the way it really made me think.

There aren’t a huge number of middle grade books that effectively pull off the perspective of the struggling student. After all, it is an adult author attempting to authentically represent the perspective of a person who is an age that the adult can no longer get back to. However, sometimes an author comes along who is able to do this very well. John Boyne is one who I think pulled it off with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Absolutely Almost is another pick—the adults in the story struggle to understand Albie and his way of thinking and navigating the world, just as Albie attempts to figure out why the people around him act and say things the way they do. Albie is honest and heartfelt, and like many readers, I suspect, I grew to love him as a character, and wanted to share some choice words with the bullies at school who made his life difficult. I cheered for him when things went well, and loved the way his babysitter, Calista, created a superhero just known for liking donuts. This is a humorous and authentic realistic read from Lisa Graff, and you may end up liking Albie just as much as I did.

“I’m Donut Man. I don’t have a superpower. I sure do like donuts, though. Yum!”

If you have a craving for gourmet donuts and you find yourself in Costa Mesa, CA (not the Brooklyn of the book), you should check out Sidecar Donuts. I’ll take a Huckleberry donut and a Madagascar Vanilla Twist!

Visit the 51st Kid Lit Blog Hop and discover other fantastic Kid Lit Blogs!

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five-stars
What Katie Read
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