Joshua Wynn is a preacher’s son and a “good boy” who always does the right thing. Until Maddie comes back to town. Maddie is the daughter of the former associate pastor of Joshua’s church, and his childhood crush. Now Maddie is all grown up, gorgeous—and troubled. She wears provocative clothes to church, cusses, drinks, and fools around with older men. Joshua’s ears burn just listening to the things she did to get kicked out of boarding school, and her own home.
As time goes on, Josh goes against his parents and his own better instincts to keep Maddie from completely capsizing. Along the way, he begins to question his own rigid understanding of God and whether, as his mother says, a girl like Maddie is beyond redemption. Maddie leads Josh further astray than any girl ever has . . . but is there a way to reconcile his love for her and his love for his life in the church?
Johnson's (My Life as a Rhombus) third book is a slightly overwritten but sincere story about an obedient preacher's son who is "expected to never break the rules." But 17-year-old Joshua does just that when a close friend returns after a five-year absence, looking more grown up and sexier than he'd thought possible. Unfortunately, Maddie (who now goes by Madeline) is "not really into organized religion" and its restrictions, though she says she's still a Christian. This Madeline drinks, swears, wears revealing clothing, and is open to having sex possibly with him. Josh is repeatedly confronted with temptations he may be too human to ignore ("I had no doubt that Madeline Smith needed saving. I just wasn't quite sure if I was interested in being her savior"). While the dialogue is occasionally textbook ("There's more to me than being just a good guy"), the intention behind the words rings true. Both the portrayal of awkward teen moments (buying condoms, a first kiss) and the questions Josh weighs about morality, God, and desire feel wholly genuine. Ages 14 up.
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Varian is great at creating memorable characters. One of his best books! A must read.
Unsatisfying. But the best books always are, because they make you think.