Joshua Wynn is a good guy. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t party, he doesn’t have sex. He chooses leading his church’s youth group over playing on the school basketball team. Granted, he’s the preacher’s kid, and there’s an enormous amount of pressure on Joshua to be good. And Joshua’s mostly okay with that.
That is, until Maddie Smith — his best childhood friend who moved away when she was 13 — moves back into town. She’s 18 now, and she’s not what Joshua remembers. For starters, she’s not a believer any more, and Joshua (sort of) decides that it’s up to him to “save” her. Except he’s falling for her as well.
This is an incredibly thoughtful novel; Johnson maintains a fine balance between those who take their faith incredibly seriously and those who don’t, managing (for the most part) never to take sides as to which is better. He also avoids making Joshua a caricature, someone who is easily dismissed. Joshua is a complex character — desires, insecurities, hang-ups, and all.
Which brings me to something else I found admirable about Saving Maddie: Johnson doesn’t write down to teens (it reminded me a lot of John Green’s books, and that’s a compliment). It’s a strikingly honest book: honest about belief, faith and following. Honest about the conflict between desire and duty. And all this makes Joshua’s struggle to find his own way — as opposed to the way he’s always gone just because that’s what he was taught — more powerful.
I also appreciated the ending (and you know how important endings are) because it’s not the traditional happy ending and because there’s hope. It’s an immensely hopeful book, one that asks the reader to look beyond appearances to the person inside.
But, most of all, it’s a book that will make you think, about belief, about decisions and about others. And a book like that is always worth reading.
Rated: High, for language — several F-bombs, plus an fairly explicit almost-sex scene — there are breasts, and talk of sex, but no actual sex.