Saving Maddie

by Varian Johnson

ages: 14+
First sentence: “‘Hurry up,’ she yelled, dust blowing in her wake as she ran down the dirt trail.”
Review copy given to me by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: March 9, 2010

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, hangups, and all.

Which brings me to something else I found admirable about Saving Maggie: 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 just gone 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.

9 thoughts on “Saving Maddie

  1. I'm not religious anymore, but I grew up in a church community so I still have a lot of interest in YA books that handle religion in a thought-provoking way. I'll be looking for this one in March!


  2. His first book was like that too–took a tricky situation (in that case, abortion) and examined it from a multitude of angles without coming right out and saying good or bad. Glad to hear SM is the same way.


  3. @Biblivore-My Life as a Rhombus was his 2nd book actually. But I agree,

    I love how he remained neutral on the issue of abortion and I'm excited to hear that he does the same when handling the oh so tricky issue of religion.

    Good review and thank you! I like hopeful endings 🙂


  4. I read Maddie in 7hrs. That is a new record for me. I could not get over how on point Varian was in his depiction of the PK (Preacher's Kid) and how sometimes religion can be the third wheel isolator when you are a teenager or how it can be your rock even when you feel like you have been knocked over by it. I can't wait to read more from V. Johnson.


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