Showing posts with label Jennifer Mathieu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jennifer Mathieu. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

"…like making it look like was texting Elaine about doing it with him." (p25) makes zero sense. There were also some spelling errors, but very few.

I was not at all impressed with this novel. The author's goal is admirable, but I think it achieves the very opposite of what it attempts. It's told from multiple first person PoVs. 1PoV with one narrator is usually a disaster in YA fiction, but in this case Elaine, Kelsie, Kurt, and Josh all narrate, magnifying the problem fourfold. All four are morons, and every single one of them seems to be as sexually-obsessed as they are shallow and tedious. This means that not a one of them has an engaging story to relate. Apparently no one in this small town in Texas has anything on their mind - ever - except sex, and that applies equally whether you're male or female. Even given a very liberal view of how teens are, this is completely unrealistic and not even remotely titillating (which might have offered some relief from the tedium).

The novel has no conventional chapters (1, 2, 3, etc), just a series of interleaved stories (I use that term purposefully) headed by the name of the narrator. They each tell essentially the same yarn, tarted up with pointless and yawn-worthy (not yarn-worthy) personal detail about their petty lives, so if you read it front-to-back, you'll find yourself engaged in endless re-writes of your understanding of events as new information constantly comes to light. Some readers might like that.

The final contributor is Alice herself, and she's just as bad as the others for where her mind is at, but if the very last narrative by Josh and the very last chapter itself (by Alice) are read first, the rest of the novel can be comfortably skipped without loss. Unless you enjoy rambling, juvenile, three-sheets-to-the-wind style air-headed gossip.

If this had been written by a guy I can imagine how raked over the coals he would have been for writing material like this even if he had a point to make. That's what I'd optimistically assumed: that there was some sort of point going to be made, about slut-shaming or something along those lines, but I found myself increasingly hoping it would be made quickly, because quite frankly I did not know how much of this empty-headed adolescent chit-chat I could honestly stomach. I wasn't at all intrigued, engrossed (just grossed), or entertained by it. And there was no point made at the end except that some people are sexually-obsessed and others are liars. There is no compelling truth unveiled here, nothing new, nothing unusual, nothing edifying, nothing educational, nothing entertaining, nothing which adds to the discourse, and no moral points made. It's just gossip teetering precariously upon upon innuendo, stacked dangerously upon lies, balanced on the knife edge of total inertia, and that's what I want to get into next.

I think the worst part of this novel is what is not said. Yes, people do dumb stuff, and yes people lie about what others may or may not have done, but that's life. That's a given. Yes, women are held to a different standard than are men, and as wrong as that is, as much as that must change, it's not news. The problem that this novel suffers is that it's so obsessed with making its point that it tramples that point under foot. There is no realism here, and thus the issue becomes not Alice, but where the hell were the adults during all this? I cannot honestly believe, no matter which town it happened in, that this level of scandalous behavior (not to be confused with sexual behavior) could go on unabated without someone stepping in somewhere along the line, but no one ever did. Adults were all but non-existent in this novel. They said nothing. They did nothing. They intervened in nothing.

Having said that, there was one event which necessitated police intervention, and a simple check of cell-phone calling records could have implicated or exonerated one of the parties, but that investigation was never undertaken. I find that incredible - and not in a good way. I'm guessing that the sign as you drive into this town says: Healy, Texas - where you leave reality behind.

The story is about two events (so-called - one is a non-event, the other a tragedy) connected with Alice, who is variously described up front as a slut and a skank. The non-event is that at a party, she had sex with two guys one after the other. Who cares? But it's all this town can talk about until the next event. That event was some time later, when Brandon was supposedly so bombarded with texts when he was driving, that he had lost control of the car and died. His passenger, Josh, survived since he was wearing a seat-belt.

Quite obviously, the driver is at fault here for one or more of the following:
1. drinking and driving, and/or
2. texting and driving, and/or
3. Failing to drive with due care and attention and
3. Failing to buckle-up
There is no question about this, yet this becomes an obsession in the town: Brandon is innocent, the sender of the texts effectively murdered him. Seriously? Were those texts even sent? The police quite simply don't bother to investigate. Seriously? Every single person (save one, more about him anon) in the school turns completely against Alice? Seriously? I simply cannot credit this. It's like a 1930s Frankenstein movie, with mob, but sans pitchforks. Yes, I can see how people can turn against someone for no good reason, but I cannot for the life of me see it happening as it's depicted in this fairy tale.

That's the problem, ultimately: that I could not believe this. It's simply not realistic. And I don't care if you, who is reading this review, or the author, or her literary agent. or her publicist, or her best friend can quote me an event that happened like this. That's not the issue. I'm not reading a newspaper, I'm reading a novel, and if the author of the novel cannot suspend my disbelief, then that author has failed.

Did Alice deserve the graffiti in the rest room? That's not even the question to ask here. The question is: why didn't even one single school official do anything about the graffiti, or about the behaviors being exhibited in that school? The question is: why didn't one single parent do anything about the behaviors being exhibited over this. And therein lies another problem: Alice's story is trivialized, debased, and marginalized by the complete lack of realism. I had sincerely hoped that this story would have aimed at being rather more novel than that.

So what about the one guy who didn't ostracize her? He was absolutely no better than any other character, and I'll tell you why. His entire focus throughout this novel was not on Alice, but on how much of a total babe she was, how hot she looked, how curvaceous her body was, how great her cleavage was, how her knees were like two peaches (seriously?!!!), how her neck was swan-like and what-ever! Never once, not on one single occasion did he ever express how beautiful her mind was (it wasn't, but then I'm not in love with her, he was). He never extemporized upon what a great person she was. In short, his behavior was exactly as bad as everyone else's, just in a different way. Actually you could make a sound argument that his objectification of Alice was even more grotesque than that exhibited by everyone else. At least they were out in the open with it - nothing to hide. And this guy was supposed to be her knight in shining armor (actually another YA trope with which I have issues, but enough said).

I'm sorry, but this novel failed in what it was purportedly trying to do, and in my opinion, rather than help to fix this awful problem, has simply exacerbated it. I cannot recommend it.