Contemporary Young Adult
Roaring Book Press
Source: ARC from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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.
This review is going to be a touch different from my standard review, mostly because Devoted is a story that pushed me well outside my comfort zone and proved to be more than a little uncomfortable for me at times, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I'm someone who likes to stay well clear of stories where religion plays a prominent role, especially when what we see of that religion is more extreme in nature. Ms. Mathieu takes us inside a fundamentally Christian family with rather fanatical beliefs about God and the roles men, women and children are to play in service to Him, but she handles the subject matter with care through protagonist Rachel as she comes to see that the world she grew up in is no longer the one to which she wants to belong.
The first half of this story is hard to read, every communication between the members of Rachel's family parroted snippets of their pastor's teachings or quotes of scripture, leaving very little room for creative or independent thought. Rules are to be adhered to, men are to work, women are to cook, clean and reproduce, and every thought or action is to be a direct result of the church's teachings. A sense of claustrophobia was nearly instantaneous, the parameters of Rachel's world so rigid and unyielding that I found myself needing frequent breaks just to escape and take comfort in a life where I'm free to be whatever I choose to be.
Once Rachel begins to question her worldview, thanks in large part to the blog of a young woman who left the community years prior under somewhat scandalous circumstances, I found my breathing started to come easier, and I couldn't help but root for her to keep pushing and see where her desire to be more than an ever-dutiful helpmeet takes her. Rachel doesn't immediately cut all ties to her family or her faith once she leaves home though, instead she continues to question and figure out how to have a relationship with God of her own making rather than one created for her by her father and pastor. Ms. Mathieu highlights a number of negative aspects to the radical nature of Rachel's family's beliefs, but she doesn't tear them apart and then try to nudge us as readers into a more "correct" way of thinking, instead she beautifully paints Rachel's journey as just that–a very personal exploration of not just faith but also of finding purpose in life as well.
Devoted was an impressively large step outside my paranormal romance reading bubble of happiness, one that pissed me off to no end, made me think, and ultimately brought a huge smile to my face as Rachel reached out and grabbed hold of her right to make her own choices. I can't wait to read more from Ms. Mathieu.