Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson
Release date: March 9th, 2010 (tomorrow!)
IQ "And that was when I knew Dad was wrong. Because when Mom and Dad and everyone else saw Madeline, all they saw was the girl with the bad attitude and sexy body who didn't care about her faith or her family or even herself. The girl who threatened to sway me from the path of the righteous. But when I saw Madeline, I saw a girl who prayed before every meal. A girl whose eyes shone with sadness every time her father was mentioned. A girl who desperately needed someone to tell her she was good. I saw a girl who was asking-no begging-for someone to help her." Joshua pg. 145
Whew long quote there but it illustrates quite well the way we tend to view people and it also gives people a peek into the complicated journey of Saving Maddie. Saving Maddie is about Joshua who is a PK (preacher's kid) and a really good guy, abstinence, no drinking or drugs or smoking, he regularly attends religious retreats and he leads his church's youth group. He used to have a best friend named Maddie Smith, but she moved away years ago. Maddie has changed big time from the way Joshua remembers her; she's got an attitude, she's gorgeous and she's no longer a good PK. Maddie is not accepted by the church community especially when she shows up to church in a very provocative dress, Joshua's parents think Maddie needs to be saved and Joshua wants to be the one to save her. But as he spends more time with Maddie, Joshua begins questioning his own status as a good guy and whether or not Maddie can really be saved.
This is one of those books that you can't judge based on the cover. I really like the cover (although I wish it wasn't headless), but the book is narrated by a guy and that is not conveyed through the cover. I think the pink cover with a girl's purple lips on the front may be a turnoff to guys because they may think it's about a girl. They would be missing out since this is a great story for guys (and girls). Also, I see Maddie and Joshua as African American (according to this interview, some people have criticized Maddie as being too light). Maddie is described as having brown skin and I think that comes across on the cover, I don't recall if she's described one way or the other (dark brown skin vs. light brown skin). In the same interview, Mr. Johnson notes that Joshua is never identified as African American, though he sees him as African American. As do I. I think I thought of Joshua as African American because most of the people he interacted with were black (his friends, the elderly community, his church) and to be honest, the author is black so I thought Joshua would be too (I'm more inclined to imagine a book by an author of color to be about a POC, though this is not always true).
You may start this novel off thinking it will justify how you feel about 'judgemental, preachy Christians' or you may go into thinking that it will show that 'no one is too bad to be saved and the Christian way is the right way.' You would be wrong on both counts. Once again Mr. Johnson has taken a controversial subject (in My Life As A Rhombus it was abortion) and broken it down. All too often people think issues are only black and white, but there are always gray areas. Mr. Johnson deftly describes those gray areas with absolutely no judgement. His characters make their own decisions, they fall down and they dust themselves off and get back up. Their preconceived notions about religion are challenged and in some cases, verified but not in a way that is expected. Also it asks the question that is it worth saving someone else but losing yourself in the process (and I am also of the opinion that not all people need to be saved, so this book also brought up that point as well which I found quite interesting).
The minor characters never completely disappear, they reappear and we learn enough about them to feel that none of them are one-dimensional (I loved reading about the mom's character development). Joshua is such a great guy, especially because he can be really awkward and you just want to go 'aww'. It's also amusing for me (as a girl) to read about the issues guys deal with, because they do illustrate how confusing we girls can be. Maddie is awesome as well (after you read this book, I think every girl will secretly want to be Maddie in some way), she's comfortable in her own skin and presents a confident demeanor to the world but she has her own demons. Saving Maddie is not just about religion, it's also a unique love story. Unlike other books where people fall head over heels in love right away, this romance builds up slowly (if you can even call that). I thought it would be immediate since Maddie and Joshua are childhood friends, but it's quite accurate in portraying that both of them have grown up and moved on. It's quite a sweet read, because before they are attracted to each other romantically, they are friends and they have to rekindle that friendship as well (and of course there are other people in this love equation/square). The ending is also very tasteful and sly ;) The romance asks the question that if you really love someone should you save them? (especially if they are happy as they are and if you change them, they may lose the qualities you love about them).
Saving Maddie is an eye-opening, delightful story that will tear down assumptions readers have made about religion and love and build up the idea of being open minded and looking beneath the surface. I wish the book was required reading in my religion class (yet another YA book that has classroom potential!) because it addresses some important points. Guys don't let the cover turn you off, I think you will relate to Joshua and his struggles (not just with religion but with sex/drugs/alcohol/being a good guy) and I also think girls can relate to him. I hope to read more about Maddie and Joshua. Varian Johnson has proven once again that he is a fantastic author and he has sealed in my mind that he can do no wrong (I still need to read his first novel, Red Polka Dot in a Room Full of Plaid) This book is a must read and everyone will get something out of it (atheists and non Christians don't let the idea of Maddie and Joshua both being PKs turn you away, the Christian references is not overbearing or tedious) High school and up.
Disclosure: Received from publisher. Thanks Jessica/Random House!
Mr. Johnson is starting his blog tour here, it's a very insightful and entertaining interview. Visit Reading in Color tomorrow because I will have a guest post and it's Mr. Johnson's birthday! So something special must be planned :)
PS On a more personal note, I think this book left a substantial impact on me because I'm going through one of those tests of faith where I'm not sure where I stand on the issue of religion. I definitely started Saving Maddie with the intention that it would justify why I should move away from the Church (although I mean the Catholic Church and none of the characters are Catholic) because of 'preachy, judgemental Christians.' Well, I should not have made that assumption since this book has left me with some food for thought and it has helped me refocus and hone in on what I like/don't like about Christianity.