Author: Varian Johnson
Source: ARC from KidLitCon
Who I Told I’d Read It: the author. Actually, I kind of begged for this ARC after reading My Life as a Rhombus. Really shamelessly, too.
Joshua Wynn is a preacher's kid. Since before he could walk, he's known what that means. He's held to a higher standard than other kids. He has to be an example of how to act and speak and think. And so far he's been pretty successful. He visits the elderly instead of going out partying, heads the youth group instead of the basketball team, sings in the choir instead of dancing in bars--in short, he's everyone's idea of a good guy.
When childhood friend Maddie Smith comes back to town, she's like a walking, talking example of everything Joshua's never allowed himself to be. The years away have changed her, outside and in. But Joshua knows that the girl he once knew--smart and spunky and his best friend in the world--is somewhere inside the slutty-dressing, tequila-drinking, scandalous woman. He's going to find her, and he's going to save her.
He might even end up saving himself.
Like I said, I loved My Life as a Rhombus so much that when I met the author at KidLitCon 09, I begged pretty shamelessly for this ARC. Besides being by an author I already knew I enjoyed, I was hoping this would pick up one of my favorite themes in YA, which is how people fit religion and faith into their life.
It did and it didn't: there's very little of the inner exploration of faith and God that I love. However, what does happen is that Joshua's concept of his own religion, his beliefs about what's right and what's wrong and how his actions make him a good person or not, broadens. In the beginning, he is attempting to fit some robotic mold of the good Christian soldier. There is a line that encapsulates Joshua:
I was supposed to be a shining example of what was good and righteous and wholesome in the world. (Page 28 of the ARC)Y'all, I almost cracked from the pressure just reading that.
By the end, he's learned to let up on himself a little, understand that if he bends some of the rules that his church and his community have laid down for him, he won't automatically go to hell, or even worse, lose his parents' love. He remains a fundamentally good guy, just one who isn't so rigid about his own goodness.
So does Joshua save Maddie? It's hard to say. Maddie doesn't turn into a Sunday-hat-wearing, choir-singing Good Girl, but thanks to Joshua's love and friendship, she does finish up the novel in a better emotional place than when she entered it, and maybe that's all you really need for salvation.