Tag: spirituality

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!

happy

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

Bookish Illumination: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (2015) by Rachel Joyce

Bookish Illumination: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (2015) by Rachel JoyceThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
Published by Random House Publishing Group on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Adult, Fiction, Literary, Realistic
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an exquisite love story about Queenie Hennessy, the remarkable friend who inspired Harold's cross-country journey. A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot--a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn't know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.   In this poignant parallel story to Harold's saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy's voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold's; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths--about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.   A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person's life.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

Was I ever delighted to discover that Rachel Joyce was writing a companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye! If you read my review of that one, you know that I read this book last fall for the first time. I picked up a copy in London and fell in love with the story and with its characters. A man who decides to walk the length of England to visit a dying friend? At first it may not sound all that exciting, but it was such a beautiful and moving story, filled with ordinary encounters hiding the extraordinary.

Knowing I would be able to return to a world with Harold Frye and Queenie Hennessy, but this time with more of Queenie’s story made my world get just a little brighter! The story takes place at the SAME TIME as the other book. It just focuses on Queenie’s perspective instead of Harold’s.

I am starting again, I thought. Because that is what you do when you reach the last stop. You make a new beginning.

Like Harold Frye, this novel really highlights the importance of looking beyond appearances and recognizing that people are complex individuals who deserve respect and connection. We are all striving to connect with each other, and I think that both of Joyce’s books effectively depict characters who need that kind of connection. These characters become willing to reach out so these connections form with others.

Long ago Harold said to me:

“There are so many things we don’t see.”

What do you mean? I asked. My heart gave a flip.

“Things that are right in front of us,” you said.

There’s no sugar coating how difficult life can be in this story. Queenie is a flawed and broken woman, but she’s honest about that, and through flashbacks, the story illuminates different points in her life that give insight into the woman she has become.

The place was a part of me in the same way that the past was a part of me and you were a part of me and so were my bones.

Not only does the book illuminate matters of the heart in a way that speaks to me of the book’s spirituality, the story also highlights an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. This is revealed through Queenie’s sea garden, and her memories of the garden represent a significant part of the book, for it gives further insight into who Queenie is. She’s experienced Beauty, but beauty can reach us in different ways.

Every once in awhile you have to stop in your tracks and admire the view, a small cloud and a tree outside your window. You have to see what you did not see before. And then you have to sleep.

The last thing I wanted to mention about this book’s spiritual aspects is the notion of forgiving yourself. Queenie has to come to terms with some events in her life, and one key question for her is whether she can forgive herself for something from her past. It is with the help of others and through her own writing that Queenie begins this journey towards forgiveness. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t say anything more.

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoyed Harold Frye, you will appreciate this story. But, even if you didn’t read Joyce’s other book, I would still recommend this one to you if you’re in the mood for a moving and beautiful story about broken individuals striving for connection and love in the world.

I can honestly say that this book brought tears (like Harold Frye) but it was a good kind of tears. You will know this if you read Harold Frye, but Queenie does have cancer and is living with other people with terminal illnesses in the book. But it’s definitely not a depressing story–Trust me!

The Final Illumination:

I approached this book with some particular ideas about what Queenie would be revealing and who she had been in love with. I actually was quite surprised by what I discovered, and I appreciated that element of surprise. I may have even enjoyed this companion novel to Harold Frye even more, because we don’t get much of Queenie’s perspective in the other book. And that’s ok, because it is Harold’s book and his pilgrimage. This is another fabulous book club book, like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye.

“People think you have to walk to go on a journey. But you don’t, you see. You can lie in bed and make a journey too…”

I wish I had someone else to chat with about this book, so if you read it (or are reading it) do comment below or tweet me your thoughts!

I received an e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley and this in no way affected my review.

four-half-stars
What Katie Read

Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy Holczer

Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy HolczerThe Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Published by Penguin on May 1st 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Family, Multigenerational, Social Issues
Pages: 320
Goodreads

Happy Monday, Readers!

This isn’t my BIG BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT (that’s coming later this week) but a small announcement: I’m starting a new feature on Mondays—Middle Grade Monday! As you know, I already read and chat about a LOT of Middle Grade books, but Monday will be especially devoted to a book in that genre, and it will always be one that I’ve read recently and that I REALLY LOVE! And I think you will too. So here goes for my first Middle Grade Monday!

Suggested age range: 10 and up

“ ‘You deserve to be loved. But sometimes, you can’t see what that looks like for yourself’” (p. 15)

“Sometimes we lose pieces of who we are in times of great sorrow and distress. And then we have to find a way to get them back.”

The Book: Set in California, this poetic realistic story follows the journey of twelve year-old Grace. Grace and her mother have always been on their own, moving from place to place, but when her mother tragically dies, Grace is sent to live with a grandmother she has never met. Struggling with trusting this woman who turned her daughter away before Grace was born, Grace has to navigate a new life in a new place. Can she move on and open her heart to a different family and relationships? Will she uncover the puzzle of clues she thinks her mother left her, perhaps leading her to the answers she so desperately needs in this new town? The Secret Hum of a Daisy charts Grace’s journey as she discovers more about herself, the mother she so desperately loved, and those with whom she might learn to trust.

Spirituality in The Secret Hum of a Daisy: This story has spirituality written all over it. Not in an overbearing way, but because it treats issues of death, grief, healing of the heart, forgiveness, and love. It’s all there, and the way Holczer weaves these themes together is beautiful! How do we say goodbye to a loved one we thought we would never lose so soon? How do we open up our hearts to those who have hurt us? How do we forgive ourselves and those around us? What does it take for the heart to heal and to be ok with settling somewhere and building community? These are all questions raised in the story, and that I think, highlight spiritual aspects of the narrative.

Grace finds solace in writing—but after her mother is gone, it is difficult for her to write anything at all. We find out just how important writing is to her in the opening pages:

“That was how the words felt sometimes as I wrote them down. Like I was taking something scrambled and unscrambling it.” (p. 24)

Who Should Read This Book: This is an award-worthy book that I think all lovers of middle grade fiction should sit down and enjoy. The writing is poetic, the pace is just right, and though the story has its sad parts, it ultimately ends with hope and new beginnings. Though some young readers might have trouble reading a book that opens with the death of a mother, I think the right readers would appreciate this book and its thought-provoking moments of mystery.

The Final Word: What a wonderful debut contemporary middle grade novel! The cover is beautiful, the title is poetic, and there is plenty more poetry throughout the story. This was on my top ten list of anticipated reads for 2014, and I was so happy to finally read this for my children’s book club. I think the entire group loved the book, and I’m excited to host Tracy for an interview on the blog soon. There were definitely moments of tears, so keep tissues nearby, but also moments of laughter and hope. This is a splendid story, with some lovely quotes that I want to return to again and again (you’ll see I’ve included some within this post) and the reminder of how important poetry will always be within the human experience. READ IT!!

“ ‘You will go your whole life, Gracie May, and every single person in it will fail you in one way or another. It’s all about the repair’ ” (p. 187).

What Katie Read
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