The title: Devoted
The author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publication: Roaring Brook Press, 2015
Got it from: The library
I was sitting here this weekend, trying to figure out why this book was making me feel so many things and why it felt so incredible that I couldn't put it down. Then it hit me that this book is kind of like the YA version of The Blue Castle, my favourite book of all time. And I guess it just shows how much I love stories about women who leave their crazy, oppressive families and find supportive people who guide them into doing whatever the hell they want.
This book has exploded across my consciousness like a bomb. It feels like such a beautiful, important, amazing expression of what it feels like to be a young woman who realizes that she's better than what her religion tells her and that there's a whole world out there for her. It's feminist in a way that reminded me of what feminism really means. It's a wake-up call to remember that there are so many women all over the world who can't dress the way they want, speak their minds, get an education or even show their emotions. I take it for granted, but this book made me appreciate just what a rare, precious gift it is for me to be a woman who can go anywhere, say anything, and most importantly, spend my free time however I want.
Rachel Walker grows up in a family where none of those freedoms are available to her. She lives in a strictly religious community where her family follows the Quiverfull movement, and her life is similar to the one portrayed by the Duggars on 19 Kids and Counting (and I couldn't help thinking of her family as the Duggars when I read the book). She's homeschooled by religious textbooks, attends church several times a week, is exhausted by raising her many younger siblings, and lives in poverty. Her family quotes scripture all day, she must always show "cheerful countenance" and her father is the ultimate authority. When the story opens, Rachel is 17 and knows that she must soon follow in the footsteps of her ultra-pious older sister Faith and get married and start having babies.
But it's clear from the beginning that Rachel isn't like the rest of her family. She's smart, and she's sensitive. She sneaks books and reads them secretly, which as we all know is about the most dangerous and powerful thing a young woman can do. She starts to feel things and question her family, her religion, her whole way of life. This book does such a lovely job of explaining just what it's like when you start questioning your faith. I know because I've been there. I know how it feels when the truth starts making cracks in a lifetime of beliefs, until you can't stop them as they multiply and suddenly the daylight bursts forth. It's the most wonderful and exhilarating and terrifying feeling.
Tears are running down my face, and I try to stop them but I can't. I can't make sense of the words-not all of them-but something about them makes me catch my breath. Makes me read them again and again. Especially the final two lines.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The fact that this question now exists in my brain makes me feel like a million bubbles are exploding on my skin all at once.
How long has this question existed? How many other people have asked themselves these very words?
What is it that I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?
My wild life?
My precious life?
To be a godly wife to my future husband and raise my children in the service of the Lord.
It's been my answer all my life. It's always come so easily.
Maybe because I've never asked the question first.
This is important stuff. This is powerful stuff. This is the kind of thing that girls should be asked growing up but they don't. There's an assumption, even if you don't grow up in a cult, that as woman you're going to get married and have babies. No one ever talks about how there's a whole world out there, a whole lifetime of other satisfying things you could be doing. And confining yourself to be a slave to your family is like death to an intelligent woman. I completely understand when Rachel's so exhausted with taking care of her family and trying to be good that she goes into her closet and screams into her dress. And I completely, absolutely, 100% get it when Rachel thinks about her soon-to-be life:
Please, Father God, don't give me so many babies I can't find a moment's peace to read or think, or watch the sunset.
...I think about sitting at my parents' dining room table in a few years, responsible for a baby in my belly and a baby in my arms.
I can't breathe.
I stare at my hands, like they belong to someone else. Someone I don't know but who lately seems intent on making herself known to me...
Watching Rachel's growth as she comes to see the truth about her family and her cult is a truly moving experience. As she slowly connects with someone from the outside world who has managed to escape from the same religion, you just want to cheer her on in her mental and physical escape. I particularly love Rachel's growing awareness that women can have lustful feelings, and that she has them too. There's a certain scene when Rachel thinks about a boy she likes that really encapsulates the incredible feeling of romantic attraction:
I think about [him] looking at me like that. And about what it would feel like to know his eyes were on me, unable to look away.
Suddenly, there's a fuzzy tingle running through every fine hair on my arms, down my skin, like a million fuzzy tingles at once. And there's a gentle thud between my legs that makes me catch my breath.
If you want to read a book about what it feels like to realize that you are human for the first time, and experience what true freedom feels like for the first time, I couldn't recommend a better book than Devoted. Now excuse me while I go revel in my quiet, peaceful, undemanding household where I can research and read and think whatever I want.