Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Devoted by Jennifer MathieuDevoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Roaring Brook Press on June 2, 2015
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-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.

Devoted found its way onto my wishlist solely because I really enjoyed Mathieu’s debut novel, The Truth About Alice. As it was moving up my tbr pile, though, I was nervous, because I was really scared that the plot would not be my thing. Religion in books rarely works for me, because I’ve never been a religious person; it so often comes across as preachy, and I can’t handle that. I’m thankful that I gave Devoted a fair chance, because, from the very start, I was impressed with the voice and power of Mathieu’s sophomore novel.

Rachel Walker is one of ten children, the second oldest girl. As a dutiful daughter should, Rachel prepares to become a good wife and helpmeet to her future husband by assisting her mother in household chores. She cooks meals, washes dishes, serves the men, and takes care of her younger siblings. The family attends Calvary Christian, a church with very firm beliefs about what is right and proper. Improper things include women making decisions.

Though Rachel has always believed in everything her family holds as true, she’s increasingly questioning her life. Rachel’s smart, curious, and not sure if she wants to get married and have children. At seventeen, her future husband will likely be lined up soon, and her life is chafing more and more. Add to that her mother’s depression following a miscarriage, Rachel’s questioning why it’s okay to go to doctors for treatment of the body but not for treatment of the mind.

Unfortunately, the people of Calvary don’t believe in questioning God, the pastor, or fathers. Rachel’s desire to read books, like A Wrinkle in Time, or possibly not to have kids is rebellion. There’s such a narrow definition of what anyone in that community is allowed to do, particularly if they happen to be female. Rachel loves her family, but she’s increasingly anxious about the future.

I want to sidebar briefly to talk about the treatment of Christianity in this book. Now, I know that I’m probably not the most trustworthy source on this, since I’m not Christian, but I think that the treatment’s actually pretty positive, unless you’re from the Calvary school of Christianity. Mathieu puts the focus on Rachel being able to make her own choices about her life, not on the importance of removing religious belief.

Rachel’s favorite novel, A Wrinkle in Time, ends up being a really nice metaphor for what was wrong with Calvary. Her father wouldn’t let her read it, because there’s magic and time travel. However, A Wrinkle in Time is actually quite Christian, but a different kind of Christian. Later in the novel, Rachel attends a different church, and she’s able to see firsthand that there are different ways of interacting with God. I think it’s cool that Rachel actually came through all of this with a better relationship with God; it’s not all that surprising that she might like Him better if He wasn’t forcing her down one narrow rocky path.

Mathieu does a really excellent job with the voice in Devoted. Rachel felt very real to me, and I felt so sad for her. It was wonderful watching her question and eventually stand up for herself, though it was terrible that she had to break with her family to do it. Rachel’s a bit naive because she grew up with so little access to information, but she’s smart, sweet, and ready to learn. There’s not really romance in Devoted, but there’s a really adorable potential future romance.

Devoted is a truly beautiful novel. I actually wish there were more to Rachel’s story, because I want to find out what happens next for her. The subject is a tricky one, but I think Mathieu handled it perfectly.

Favorite Quote:

“The thing is, Rachel, that humans get attracted to each other,” Lauren’s voice continues as I try to pay attention to her words. “Our bodies attract each other. And girls can get attracted to guys, too.” I can hear the energy and urgency picking up in her voice. “That’s how it works, you know. That’s why all of us are here. Because we get hot for each other. And the way you and I were raised, we were just handed these totally warped ideas about sex and our bodies, you know? Like girls can’t feel attracted to guys and guys are just animals who can’t control themselves, so we have to rein them in by wearing pillowcases on our heads, practically. It’s body shame and guilt and all of that, and it pisses me off just thinking about it.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif big love teen girl

3 responses to “Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu”

  1. Hannah says:

    I too adored the author’s debut, so immediately added this to my TBR pile when I saw she had another book coming out.

    I think it’s really interesting to watch/read about people escaping from the confines of their religion, and finding a way that works for them – which doesn’t always have to mean renouncing faith entirely.

    And your review has me convinced that the quality in this one is just as superb as her first.
    Hannah recently posted…Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J MaasMy Profile

  2. Layla says:

    Oh gosh, I’m so glad you reviewed this one. I read and reviewed it recently too and I want the whole world to read it now. I had the same hesitations over whether it would be preachy or religious in a way that troubled me, and I hadn’t read anything else by Mathieu, so I was really not sure what to expect. But yeah, I totally agree with your review – thought the book was so skillfully written – and I liked all of the potential things that the story opens up for Rachel (including the romance). So nice to have all of those storylines lead to possibility.

    And that’s a great point about how the novel uses A Wrinkle in Time. I hadn’t thought of that!
    Layla recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday (3): Top Ten Girl Power Fantasy NovelsMy Profile

  3. MJ says:

    This looks really interesting. I’m always a sucker for those escape from a cult movies when they’re on Lifetime. So glad it isn’t preachy either.
    MJ recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Ick ShipsMy Profile

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