Welcome to Wednesday. Today, I am excited to feature a book that blew me away. I was most impressed with Jennifer Mathieu's debut book last year, The Truth About Alice, so when I was given the opportunity to read her sophomore book, Devoted, I didn't hesitate. In this book, Mathieu delivers an unforgettable and compelling story about a seventeen year old girl living under the strict oppression of religion. Watching Rachel break free is like seeing a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. I thought this was an impactful and memorable read, and one I could easily relate to as I grew up in a small, mostly white town that was heavily influenced by one predominate religion. My community was nothing like Rachel's, but it was easy for me to understand her predicament. I urge you to read this book as it is fascinating as well as courageous. I am thrilled to have Jennifer here today to answer a few short questions. So let's meet her, shall we?
I'm an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults. My debut novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, was published by Roaring Brook Press on June 3, and my second book, DEVOTED, came out June 2, 2015.
My favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and this super hilarious 1980s sitcom about four retired women called The Golden Girls. I can basically quote every episode.
I live with my husband, son, one rescue dog, one fat cat, and another cat that is even fatter than the fat cat.
When it comes to what I read, I love realistic young adult fiction (duh), creative nonfiction, super scandalous tell-all memoirs and unauthorized biographies, and basically anything that hooks me on the first page. Find me on my website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Hi Jennifer, I am so thrilled to have you here on Rainy Day Ramblings today. I was a big fan of your debut novel, The Truth About Alice, and once again you impressed me with Devoted.
Hi, Heidi! Thanks for participating in my blog tour and thanks for your kind words!
Can you tell the readers a bit about Devoted and why you decided to tackle this topic?
DEVOTED tells the story of 17-year-old Rachel Walker, a young woman in a rural part of Texas who is growing up as part of a very large and very strict Christian family. She is struggling with what she believes and starts to question the world around her, and this leads her to have to make difficult choices. The idea for the book started with reality television to be totally honest! Years ago, I started watching the show 19 Kids and Counting, which follows the super-sized Duggar family of Arkansas. I watched it mostly as a novelty and just because I was curious about how enormous families functioned day-to-day. But then I started reading more about the Duggars and their faith and why they have so many kids to begin with. What I learned is that they basically believe the Bible tells them they should leave the number of children they have up to God, so they don’t use birth control – not even natural family planning. This movement is sometimes referred to as the Christian Patriarchy movement or Quiverfull movement, and the more I learned about it, the more fascinated I became – as a wife, mother, and feminist. I just knew I had to set a story in this world.
Rachel's character could be a member of numerous religions in our country, is the Calvary Christian Church fictional or is it based on a real life church?
It is not based on a specific church but represents the more extreme elements of the Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull movement. The movement is not a specific denomination per se. It’s almost like vegetarianism. There are all types of vegetarians – some more strict than others in their beliefs and practices. The core belief is having as many children as possible and shunning birth control. Some believers go so far as to not allow women to wear pants or cut their hair, while others are a little more relaxed on such practices. I chose to make Rachel’s church on the more extreme side of things because I thought it would increase the tension in the novel, but Calvary is not based on any real life church I know about or that I visited. However, through my research I discovered that many churches like Calvary do exist.
What type of research did you have to do in order to write Rachel's story?
I did quite a bit of research. First of all, I read Kathryn Joyce’s work of nonfiction, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy. It’s a very accessible but well-sourced text that explores the history and practices of families like Rachel’s. Kathryn was kind enough to put me in touch with some young women who were raised in this culture but who had since left the movement, and I met them in person and interviewed them. I became good friends with one young woman in particular and she was my main source for the novel. I also read many, many blogs and websites about this world including Vyckie Garrison’s No Longer Quivering.
How do you think readers are going to react to Rachel and her story?
I think and hope people will see Rachel’s story as something they can relate to even if they haven’t been raised like Rachel. I think all of us go through that period in our lives when we start asking ourselves the Big Questions. What do I believe in? My parents have been taking me to church (or maybe they haven’t), but does this situation work for me? What if I don’t want to go to church anymore? What if I do want to go? Rachel’s story is extreme, but I think all of us go through that time in our lives when we start to question the values with which we were raised – be they political or spiritual or what have you – so I hope that readers find a way to relate to Rachel’s story even if they weren’t raised in the same way.
Is Rachel modeled after anyone in particular?
No, not a particular person. But I was very inspired by the many stories I read about and listened to during my research. A few events in the book were inspired by events I learned about from the women I spoke to and read about, but Rachel as a character is wholly fictional.
What take away message do you hope readers will glean from your book?
That it takes courage and strength to stand up for what you believe – and that sometimes it’s scary to listen to your heart, but if you do, you won’t ever be sorry.
In your first book you took on bullying, and now in Devoted, religious oppression. What will you do next?
My next book is ripped from the headlines, in a sense. It’s about recovery from trauma and how we can find friendship and support in unexpected places. It’s inspired by a kidnapping that took place in Missouri in 2007. A young boy was kidnapped from his bus stop and when he was found a few days later, police discovered an older boy who had been kidnapped by the same man four years earlier. The older boy had developed what some refer to as Stockholm Syndrome where he was free to move around the area but was too terrified to leave his abductor. My book starts several months after both boys are found, and it’s about the relationship that develops between the older boy who was held for so long and the older sister of the younger boy who was kidnapped and held for just a few days. It’s about a lot of things – recovery, guilt, friendship, secrets, and, perhaps most importantly, hope.
Now that we are into summer, what books are you hoping to read during summer?
Well I just read Courtney Summers’s ALL THE RAGE and that is the first on my list of books to recommend. I can’t wait for Julie Murphy’s DUMPLIN’ out in the fall. This summer I’m looking forward to MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu. I love her work. I’m hoping to read some graphic novels this summer. I’m a big fan but I haven’t had a chance to read as many recently. I still need to read THIS ONE SUMMER by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Hey, that title makes it a perfect summer read!
Thanks so much for taking time out from your busy schedule to answer my questions, Jennifer. Best of luck with your new release and your future endeavors. I am very much looking forward to what you will bring us next.
Thank YOU for your interest and for your terrific questions, Heidi!
A huge thank you to Jennifer for stopping by. I am thrilled to be able to offer a chance to win a copy of Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu. One lucky U.S. reader can win a copy by filling out the Rafflecopter after reading the Contest Policies. Good Luck!
Here is my review:
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
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.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published 2nd 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
Four stars: A compelling and unforgettable read about a girl trying to find herself.
Rachel dutifully completes all of her tasks. At seventeen, she spends each and every day helping to raise her younger siblings. As a member of the Calvary Christian Church, Rachel is expected to pray and devote herself to God, and to completely obey her father and pastor. It is Rachel's duty to prepare herself to be a obedient wife for her future mate. Rachel has limited access to the family computer where she helps her father with his tree trimming business. Rachel knows it is wrong to look on the internet, but she can't help wanting to know more. When Rachel hears whispers around town that Lauren, a former member of the church who ran away, is back in town, she feels compelled to learn more. Is it wrong to want to know more about the outside world? Is it a sin to crave knowledge?
What I Liked:
- Wow! Devoted is a powerful read that I won't soon forget. This is the story of a young girl trapped in a religious cult, where women are subservient to men, and their sole purpose in life is to bear children and maintain a household. Life centers around the church and the Bible. As a woman in the church, Rachel isn't allowed to think for herself, she must always obey. When she begins to reach for knowledge outside of her church, she starts an unforgettable journey that is courageous, heartbreaking and memorable. How I admired her spirit! This is a book that grabbed me and kept me enthralled until the end.
- This book is centered around religion and life in a strict religious sect. Don't hesitate thinking this is a preachy book as it is not at all. Yes there is a strong focus on religion, but the author handles it perfectly. It is only utilized to expose Rachel's strict lifestyle. Never once does it attempt to sway the reader or influence, it is used for story telling purposes only. I thought the author handled the religious part perfectly. In this case, religion is the constricting force that is holding Rachel back from experiencing all that life has to offer. I liked how Rachel begin to question the contradictions in the Bible and to think for herself. If you have ever researched or known people in these type of religious communities, this is a peek at their lifestyle. I found it intriguing and terrifying at the same time.
- Rachel is an unforgettable heroine. I immediately identified with her and her plight. At seventeen, she hardly dares to dream about her future as it holds nothing but the promise of endless babies, housework and being subservient to the men in her life. When she tries to picture her future husband, she gets sick to her stomach. When Rachel begins to explore the world via the computer, she realizes there is so much more out there, but she must constantly battle her guilt and fear. I loved watching her journey, and I admired her courage and tenacity. Her path is difficult and sad, especially when she is forced to choose life outside the church or her family. Her courage and strength see her through. I enjoyed her growth, and I liked watching her form friendships outside the community. Rachel is a character you must meet, I loved her.
- Once Rachel leaves the church, a whole new world opens up to her. With every step, I was amazed at everything she has been deprived of her whole life.
- I loved seeing her form friendships with Lauren and Mark. The bond between Lauren and Rachel is interesting as the two girls shared many of the same childhood experiences. I was so impressed with both girls, considering how hard they fought to leave and forge new lives. I admired that both Lauren and Mark were willing to go out of their way to help Rachel no strings attached.
- I liked that this book is without a romance. Instead there is a rather adorable friendship that is perfect for Rachel. Even though part of me was hoping for a romance, it didn't fit the story. Instead, a sweet friendship was formed that I thought was as swoon worthy as a romance.
- This is a story that will stick with me. It is a tale of oppression, escape, courage, hope, love and heartbreak. Rachel's story is not one of fiction as there are many, many girls out there just like Rachel trapped in these strict religious communities. This is an impactful and unforgettable book, that I hope you will read.
And The Not So Much:
- After a heartbreaking scene, the book culminates and ends as Rachel is taking her next big steps into her new found future. The book is open ended, and I was left grasping for more and more. I so wanted to see Rachel continue to thrive and grow in her new environment, and I wanted to see her make more friends and hopefully even fall in love, but unfortunately the book ends before we get that far. I only hope that the author will consider a sequel because I think there is so much more story to tell.
- I was disappointed that so much of Lauren's history was left out. The reader gets the basic details of how she left, why and how she made her way in the real world, but I wanted to know so much more. I wanted to understand her entire history and to better comprehend how she managed to cope and overcome all of her challenges. She is a big important part of the story, and I felt like it would have been more impactful if more of her journey had been told.
- I was bothered that Rachel's older brothers were never even more than mentions. This isn't a big deal, but they don't even have names, and I didn't like that I didn't get to see how she interacted with her brothers. How did older brothers treat sisters in the community? Were sisters expected to obey their brothers as well?
Devoted was such an impactful and emotional read for me. This is a book about a girl whose courage and desire helps her break away from the suffocating ideas and practices of her family and her religious community. Would you have the courage to leave everyone and everything you have ever known and loved behind to start a new life? Rachel's story is one you won't forget, and it is one I hope you will read. I loved this book, and I desperately want more.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.
Don't miss Jennifer Mathieu's debut book:
Catch the rest of the Devoted Tour:
June 2: Ex Libris Kate | @exlibris_Kate
June 3: YAdultReview | @_ash
June 4: Jenuine Cupcakes | @cupcakegirly
June 5: MacTeenBooks | @fiercereads
June 6: Bookish Broads | @BookishBroads
June 7: My My Shelf and I | @MyShelfandI
June 8: Into the Hall of Books | @bookwormashley
June 9: I Read Banned Books | @jenbigheart
June 10: Rainy Day Ramblings | @rnydayramblings
June 11: Dana Square | @danasquare
June 12: Book Addict’s Guide | @bookaddictguide
June 13: ReadingTeen.net | @readingteen
June 14: ReadNowSleepLater.com | @mslbooks