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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blindsided by Books: Review of Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

Has anyone ever given you a book to read that you were sure wouldn't be your cup of tea? But you tried it anyways? Then, to your shock and surprise, you devoured the whole thing? Well, this feature is dedicated to these books; they come out of left field and end up being a home run right out of the park!

Today's Book that Blindsided me-


Reading level:
Young Adult
240 pages
Delacorte Books for Young Readers (March 9, 2010)

Joshua Wynn is a preacher’s son and a “good boy” who always does the right thing. Until Maddie comes back to town. Maddie is the daughter of the former associate pastor of Joshua’s church, and his childhood crush. Now Maddie is all grown up, gorgeous—and troubled. She wears provocative clothes to church, cusses, drinks, and fools around with older men. Joshua’s ears burn just listening to the things she did to get kicked out of boarding school, and her own home.

As time goes on, Josh goes against his parents and his own better instincts to keep Maddie from completely capsizing. Along the way, he begins to question his own rigid understanding of God and whether, as his mother says, a girl like Maddie is beyond redemption. Maddie leads Josh further astray than any girl ever has . . . but is there a way to reconcile his love for her and his love for his life in the church?

I probably should have been thinking about what I was going to say to Madeline- how I was going to lead her back to the path of righteous- but all I could do was think of her lips. Their color. Their ..taste.

I had no doubt that Madeline Smith needed saving. I just wasn’t quite sure if I was interested in being her savior.”- page 25

How far would you go to save someone? And at what point are you in danger of losing yourself in the process? On the surface, Saving Maddie appears to be a black and white story about a preacher’s son and trying to save his childhood love from throwing her life away. But one of the things I loved best about Saving Maddie was that everything wasn't so black and white. Take Maddie for instance. Through her interactions with Joshua, we got to see inside her heart and find out what really made her tick. Turned out she was one heck of a good person with a heart of gold and a clever mind. Too bad she happened to have such a bad father, who as a preacher, was supposed to be one of the "good guys". And if you've read Saving Maddie, you know this man was clearly not.

I didn't bother looking at my watch as I walked to my car, her book in my hand. I knew it was late, and I was sure Mom was freaking out.

I started my car and glanced at the phone. Three messages, all from home.

Yep, Mom was worried, all right. But that made me wonder: Did Madeline have someone who worried about her as much as my mother worried about me?" - page 40

To me, Saving Maddie was more about choices than religion. Faith is an important component of the novel, but in the end it really boiled down to love, forgiveness and finding your own way in the world. Joshua was so consumed with being the perfect preacher’s son, it seemed like he had lost track of what he really wanted. Not what his parents thought best for him, or the church, but his own hopes and dreams. If you spend every minute of every day trying to please others and do only what they think is right from you, while being miserable in the process, what kind of life is that? For someone so young, Joshua’s character seemed so much older to me. He reminded me of a heavily burdened adult who realizes that life is just passing them by. Many of his peers didn’t even feel comfortable around him. Maddie might’ve been the one everyone thought needed saving, but in some ways, it seemed to me like she was the one saving Joshua.

Whenever I think of Saving Maddie, it immediately calls to mind blackberries, vanilla shampoo and coffee. The imagery Johnson used to put his scenes together astounded me. For instance, on page 6 Johnson writes-

The wind picked up around us, pushing her scent toward me, and I took in a deep breath. The smell of her vanilla shampoo seemed right in place with the sweet taste of blackberry in my mouth.”

Johnson’s voice really drew me in- he never got melodramatic but packed each word in each scene with such a punch, I felt like I was almost watching a movie play out. At times I even wondered if he was basing this book on his own experiences. They seemed too real to me; too raw. He painted a vivid picture of the church community for me; the dialogue, the interactions between Joshua and his family- they all worked. The “old timers” at the Senior Citizen home provided the perfect amount of comic relief when things got to heavy as well.

Being someone who normally isn’t comfortable reading books with religious tones, I initially put this one aside. I’m so glad I gave it a chance, because it turned out to be a book I extremely enjoyed. There were quite a few references to sex and drinking; but in the context of the story they fit and seemed realistic. It was also great to read a book written from a male point of view with a male protagonist. I don’t think we have enough of that in YA. I think Saving Maddie could appeal to male readers, though I worry that the pink outer wrapping on the cover might throw them a bit.

Overall, Saving Maddie was a well-written, unflinching look at two complex characters who find themselves in tough situations where their deepest beliefs are challenged. I highly recommend it.

Purchase Saving Maddie from Amazon.com
Read Chapter One of Saving Maddie.

Varian Johnson is the author of Saving Maddie (Delacorte / Random House, 2010), My Life as a Rhombus (Flux / Llewellyn, 2008) and A Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press, 2005). He was born and raised in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. Varian later attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Varian now lives in Austin, TX with his wife, Crystal, and is a member of SCBWI, the Writers’ League of Texas, and The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN). Varian is also the co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, an online community charged with highlighting established and up-and-coming African-American authors of children’s and young adult literature.

Visit the author's Official Website and Blog.


Alex (Tales of a Teenage Book Lover) said...

That one looks really good!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Doesn't sound like its for me but I LOVE that it rocked your world :) I love when I find something I didn't think I'd love.

The Book Owl said...

I've been aching to read this, so I'm glad to hear it blew you away!

Emma said...

Awesome review! Been seeing this one all around the blogosphere lately.