Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Title: Devoted
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Genre: contemporary
Series: none
Pages: 336
Published: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

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.

Jennifer Mathieu has hit another emotional, dark contemporary out of the park.

Rachel, the middle child in a family of ten, is part of the Quiverfull movement. Named for their strict interpretation of the psalm “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate,” (127:5, KJV,) Rachel’s evangelical parents are obsessed with having as many children as they can, so they can praise God with their sweet countenance and return to patriarchal ideals. (If this sounds familiar, yes, the Duggars are members.)

As the oldest girl in the house, (she also has three older brothers, who are not expected to help with “women’s work”, and a married sister,) Rachel is expected to work from sun up to sun down - cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling her siblings. She’s not allowed to read secular books or watch tv or get online. She can’t even leave the house without a chaperone. She can never date and her first kiss is reserved for her wedding day. Her life revolves around the church and her siblings.

After her mother falls into depression following a miscarriage, Rachel’s workload drastically increases and she feels suffocated and questions why it’s so hard to pray. She begins sneaking unauthorized web browsing, and after weeks of wrestling with herself, Rachel finds herself obsessed with the blog of a former church member, Lauren, where she documents her journey to escape the movement. When her father also discovers Lauren’s blog, he orders Rachel to a violent and brutal “camp” for reprogramming. Rather than go, the seventeen year old runs away instead, ending up at Lauren’s.

Lauren, much farther along in her grieving process, can be very difficult. She’s angry. Angry with her abusive parents. Angry at the church that shielded them. Angry with the patriarchy and factory farming and her ex-boyfriend and God and Rachel’s progress and her parents. She lashes out, dating the wrong boys and drinking, much to her new roommate’s distress. But Lauren’s one of the most loving characters I’ve read. She knows it could be dangerous for her to pick up Rachel. She knows what happened when she ran away. She does it anyway. She loves the animals at her vet and the Tasty family. She’s so passionate and scared and real and I found her more interesting and relatable than Rachel in a lot of ways.

My only true problem is Mathieu doesn’t go far enough. Of course the book was written before the current Duggar scandal, but one look at No Longer Quivering will show the depth of the abuse and corruption in the movement. Lauren tells Rachel the church is abusive and cites that her dad beat her when she left, but neither mentions the blanket training, the spanking of six month olds, the way Bill Gothard blames victims for sexual abuse, (not everyone uses the ATI homeschooling program, but it is the program used by the Duggars, an obvious inspiration.) Neither mentions the isolation and withholding of mental health care. The church’s abuse is a lot more serious than sheltering one domestic abuser, in and out of the book world.

Instead, the book focuses on the successes. Rachel finds a job, organizing and updating files for a friend of Lauren’s. She meets Mark, (who is totally awesome and swoony,) and finds a way to be friends with a boy and maybe more? She stands up for herself and makes relationships outside of family and learns and even when she stumbles, Rachel moves on.

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