Jennifer Mathieu’s “Devoted” Addresses the Slippery Issues of Religion with Intelligence and Grace

devoted
Rachel Walker has been raised in a closed community. All of the people who live in her area belong to the Calvary Christian Church. She is being taught how to be a wife mother and is expected to carry on the family’s tradition of having a large family, shunning most worldly things and training her children in the teachings of the church.

Rachel becomes aware of a girl who used to be a part of their church, Lauren Sullivan, who has left the group and now is living on her own. The other church patrons think of Lauren as a traitor and they pity what they imagine to be her lonely and godless life. Rachel believes deeply in God and wonders if there might be another way to be religious and wants to find Lauren to ask her about her experience.

When I first heard about the book I was nervous that it might be patronizing to certain religious groups. Mathieu achieves the very difficult goal of clearly expressing the ideas of the characters from both sides of the religious divide without demonizing or patronizing their ideas or practices. She questions- and encourages readers to question myriad issues. How do people become so devoted to religious ideas that they disown their own offspring? Can a person re-create themselves? Can faith be remolded? What would the journey be for a teen on her own for the first time? This is an accomplishment in and of itself but Mathieu does more, she creates deeply sensitive, expressive, passionate and varied characters who feel and love deeply with the weight of devotion and camaraderie in every decision. 

In her first book, The Truth About Alice, Mathieu proved that she could write at a page-turning, engaging pace while asking serious questions. She repeats the feat here but it feels even smoother and more natural. Sentences flow with a voice full of wonder and awe.

“But if a mother is supposed to have enough love for more than one child, how can a heart have to save up love for a future husband?” I ask Mitzi. “Isn’t there an unending supply of love? How much love does one person contain anyway?”

Besides the most significant and meaningful aspect of religion- a personal relationship with God, Mathieu digs into other layers of a religious lifestyle that is often discussed in literature. How and what do family’s eat? What are they allowed to wear? Watch? Read? Devoted could be used to encourage and increase empathy between people with differing ideas and to begin the desperately needed yet rarely achieved calm and respectful discussions of religion and religious beliefs.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publication date: June 2, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59643-911-5
Page count: 336 pages
Publisher: Little Brown

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