Book Review: Saving Maddie

May 19, 2011

I had no doubt that Madeline Smith needed saving. I just wasn’t quite sure if I was interested in being her savior.

savingmaddieSaving Maddie by Varian Johnson is the story of two preachers’ kids, Maddie and Joshua, and what happens when they grow up–and apart.

What I Liked

– I like that at its core, this is a story about friendship. Specifically, it’s about two best friends and what happens when they rediscover each other after some time apart. Maddie has changed a lot, and Joshua has not. Joshua wants to recapture that same innocent friendship they had when they were kids (not so innocent–he always had a crush on her), but Maddie knows that’s impossible because she has been through A LOT, most of which Joshua doesn’t know about and probably can’t understand.

– I think Joshua is a great character, one we don’t see enough of in YA, honestly. He’s smart and responsible (oh, how I can relate), but he’s also tied to the idea of goodness in a way that makes him unapproachable to his peers. He’s included because his dad runs things, and he’s left out because he wants to do what’s right and has no problem saying what he thinks he’s right. That marriage to goodness is also a flaw because, as Maddie points out, he doesn’t examine why he just tows the line with his parents, especially regarding sex. There’s this great bit where she tells him that if he doesn’t want to have sex before he gets married, that’s fine, but to stop saying it’s because the Bible says so and his dad says so. She wants to know what HE thinks and what HE feels about the things he’s been taught, and he’s just not there yet. I really liked that a lot.

– The English teacher in me loves also that Maddie gets Joshua to read and expand his mind. More importantly, I love that she asks him to analyze the literature and not just summarize it. It goes back to my previous point. WHY do you think these things, Joshua? It’s what I have to teach my students, so I liked that it was part of a natural conversation the two characters had.

– Josh’s relationship with his parents is ace. Maddie’s secret just made me sad.

– Oh, I also like how Johnson examines the tension of being a kid who wants to do the right thing while having friends who do things you don’t agree with or condone. It’s not easy, and I think he’s successful at showing that Josh is a good AND a frustrating friend all at once. Usually, we see that in the–I don’t want to say bad, so let’s just say more ethically challenging friends than the straight-laced friend, so it was nice to see.

– I really liked the resolution of the narrative and how Johnson handles the “saving” aspect of the novel. Does Joshua save Maddie? What does it mean to save someone?

Another thing I find interesting is the language we use in these kinds of situations. If the roles were reversed, Maddie would be trying to change Joshua, but because Joshua is the one doing the reaching out, he’s trying to “save” Maddie. (This is not ignoring the religious bent of the novel. I think it still stands that the societal interpretation is that girls want to change boys and boys want to save girls. The terms are practically interchangeable, but the loaded meaning of each is not. Just food for thought.)

– Great characters all around.

What I Didn’t Like

– I hate, hate, hate the cover. The reason I hate it so much is that the narrator is a boy, and the cover has the book squarely marketed at girls. In fact, the spine of the book is pink. Pink! BOYS DO NOT LIKE READING PINK BOOKS. As a friend and I discussed, it makes us wonder about who the publishers think the audience for the book is. It’s certainly not boys who are struggling with being good. Is it “bad” girls who need to know that there are nice boys like Joshua out there who want to save them? Is it girls who wish they were “bad”? Is it “good” girls who also need to know there are nice boys like Joshua out there? I DON’T KNOW. I just know this cover infuriates me because it is alienating half of the audience it should be attracting.

Even if it is pretty. I mean, it matches the book and all, and I love the colors and everything, but ARGH. GENDERED. INCORRECTLY GENDERED AT THAT.

So annoying.

– My other issue is that this book is TOO SHORT. I felt like it could have been a good fifty or so pages longer. I would have really liked to see Joshua deal with his best friend’s little sister having a crush on him, more with the girls in the youth group wanting a dance ministry. And I really, really, really wanted to see more between him and his parents. I think there’s so much more going on beneath the surface, and the narrative as written only touches on some of it. Joshua’s only real defiance is his commitment to Maddie, but there’s so much more he’s dealing with that Maddie should/could have been a catalyst for in the actual narrative, and it would’ve been nice to see it addressed. Fifty more pages! That’s all I ask!

In conclusion: I liked this book. It’s worth a read, even if the cover makes me bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Quirky Brown: 4/3; Support Your Local Library: 17/30; YA Challenge: 12/20; POC: 11/15

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  1. Ari

    I LOVED this book for all the reasons you listed (and hated the cover too), except I didn’t make the connection between how it seems like in the media guys can ONLY SAVE girls and girls naturally can only want to CHANGE guys. Interesting choice of words for sure. And that is one of the reasons why I love reading your blog, you really dig deep into the books and discover things that I’m pretty sure 98% of other readers miss.

    • Akilah

      Aw, thank you!

      I think the only time we talk about girls saving is when it’s applied to other girls. I had an idea of what this book was about because of reviews like yours, but if I didn’t, pink aside, I would think it was about a girl trying to save her best friend from crazy.


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