Review // Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

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.
Released: June 2nd, 2015 Published by: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan) Goodreads

With the recent news about the Duggar family and Josh Duggar's molestation of two children, it's almost fitting that Jennifer Mathieu's Devoted, which is about the story of a girl named Rachel Walker as she questions her own faith and spirituality in a church that's similar to the one that the Duggar family is in, is coming out now.

In a press insert that came with the advance reader copy, Mathieu writes that her inspiration for the book came from her obsession with the Duggar family reality show. The Duggar family are a part of a Christian subculture called Quiverfull. As many know, the Duggar family are especially concerned about modesty to the point where females can't wear pants, cut their hair and go on dates (A line from the show comes to mind where Jim Bob, the patriarch of the family, says to one of his daughters, "Now you may side-hug").

To most people, the Duggar family is strange and the subculture that they belong to is mind-boggling. A recent Salon article titled, "I could’ve been a Duggar wife: I grew up in the same church, and the abuse scandal doesn’t shock me" written by a woman who left the same church that the Duggars belonged to,  details the beliefs that she grew up with. It's definitely worth a read.

Devoted traces 17-year old Rachel Walker's questioning about her faith and I found the story to be insightful to the world of Quiverfull. Rachel Walker is unlike her siblings and finds solace in learning, which is frowned upon as females are supposed to be good "helpmeets", women who help the men and bring glory to God's word through early marriage and childbirth. Her curiosity into the world gets her in trouble, first with reading A Wrinkle in Time and second, for going on the computer too much (females are also frowned upon for having occupations).

I appreciated how Mathieu posed Rachel's struggle with her faith as well as her family. Readers see Rachel struggle as she tries to reconcile her questioning through conversations with her younger sister Ruth and Rachel's struggle to find meaningful and helpful prayer. Yet Rachel's questions remain and I felt a sense of trepidation for Rachel as she covertly starts to email Lauren Sullivan, a girl who left their faith and just moved back in town. Usually when I dislike the situations that the characters are in, I internally want to drag the characters out because I don't see why they're continuing to put themselves in that situation but I didn't feel that way when I read Devoted since Rachel needed that slow push, that knowledge that there was a lot more out in the world, and Rachel needed to make the decision herself to leave.

Rachel as a character was strong as she could be in a situation that expects females to be meek, quiet and obedient to male authority. She didn't cower in fear when faced with difficult situations, but that might also be why she started to have questions about her own faith. Seeing her thoughts as they changed was really rewarding too, since readers could see her steadfast belief in all aspects of her faith to questioning it.

Devoted seemed like a realistic portrayal of the Quiverfull faith and I think that's due to Mathieu meeting and befriending Hännah, who was raised in the Quiverfull tradition in a family of nine children, but left. Mathieu also did a lot of research into the experiences of women who left the tradition.

Overall, Devoted was a nuanced, insightful read into the Quiverfull faith. It's particularly relevant now as the Duggar family are thrust into the news and insight is needed on their culture as well as their reasoning.

Thanks to Eric Smith for gifting me his copy of Devoted

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