Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

ARC: 328 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: none
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 was my first book about a cult, and after reading my sister's review and hearing from her her experience reading her first cult-themed book (see her review of Seed), I had some expectations for it. As I picked it up, I readied myself for a twisted plot featuring equally twisted characters and a foreign world that I could delve myself into every time I read. I was so excited to read something refreshingly different and out of my comfort zone that I had a lot of anticipation going into Devoted. However, when I was some chapters in, I quickly realized that it is no such book.

Devoted was not the dark and riveting read I was expecting. Its plot was slow and predictable, albeit somewhat interesting and eye-opening, and its characters were not particularly twisted or nefarious. This finding both disappointed me and relieved me, so I'm giving Devoted

I'll be honest, I was being unfair when I began to read Devoted with the expectation that it was going to be so dramatically appalling. My assumption that all books about cults are shocking and horrific cast Devoted in an unjustified light, hindering my reading enjoyment of the novel alone. So when I read Devoted and quickly realized my mistake, I tried to disregard my expectations completely and enjoy the book for what it is. 

The story is of a girl named Rachel Walker who had been raised all her life in attending services and following the practices and beliefs of a church called Calvary Christian Church. When her desire for knowledge and education leads her to learning about the faults and flaws of what she has always assumed to be the perfect and right way of life, she begins to question the church's and the brethrens' ways. Her revelations and utter feelings of loneliness and confusion move her to abandon all that she knew and seek truth outside of the church, although it may mean leaving her own family behind.

The plot had a slow and predictable pace, although not so slow that I constantly felt I was plodding along. But with my former expectations not completely forgotten, I felt bored at times with the story line because I could already tell what Rachel's wonderings were going to lead her to do and then I was frustrated when it took a few chapters for Rachel to get to where I already knew she was going to go. Still, I kept reading, figuring that that was actually a good thing, for me, especially, as the subject matter of Devoted was something new to me. As I got to understand Rachel more, I wanted to learn more about her life, family, friends, and peers. Her world was slowly explained and built around me, and with every new detail, my interest in it grew. There were no mysteries or crazy secrets that kept me on the edge of my seat in Devoted and, at times, its pace made me feel restless, but I eventually came to like how simply eye-opening its story came to be.

Contrary to what I expected at first, the characters in Devoted were not overly complex characters, each just having their own unique history that understandably made them who they were in the book, although they were not very easily relatable. Along with Rachel, whom I only related to over our shared enthusiasm for books, I was riveted with each piece of information I discovered about each character, their personalities becoming more and more clear in my mind's eye. I wish, however, that there was less telling and more showing in Devoted because there were many characters who were key to Rachel's development, and so, their traits had to be set straight for the story to make sense. For the other characters, though, I felt that, even though they were secondary, they had motives too that should have been explained. For example, I still wonder if the pastor of Calvary Christian Church had something against those under his care or was just plain naive of what was going on when he always resulted to the form of correction he did to help the brethren. While those important characters were clearly focused on and delineated, explanation of the others' traits was disregarded, making holes that made me feel disconnected to the characters and their interactions with each other. Coupled with the predicability of the plot, I cannot really say I rooted for Rachel in her search for truth than say I was happy she did when she did. I couldn't connect well with the characters, although I wish I had because they seemed like they had more to them than what I was given and told.

Overall, Devoted was an okay read. I expected some dramatic plot going in, but I'm glad for its untheatrical, non-tragic-ness just the same. Even though I thought the plot was slow and predictable and the characters were not easily relatable or fully fleshed out, I found Devoted to be an interesting read with its topical themes of knowledge, truth, and the meaning or purpose of life. I'd recommend this to anyone whose never read any contemporary YA about cults because Devoted is a good book to start with--no crazy Jim Jones kind of cult leader with a mass suicide in the end here. I'd also recommend this to anyone wanting an uplifting read because Devoted reminds us that the world is too large and too complex to be explained by utter truths and the key to living in its expansiveness is embracing it wholly. 

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