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. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Joshua Wynn, 17, is the son of a preacher. As he is constantly reminded by his parents, this means that he represents his family, community, and, most of all, his church. In other words, he had better be good, and he is. But being good all the time can be hard. Joshua has recently been dumped by his girlfriend and feels isolated from his peers. Then his childhood friend comes back to their small, Southern town and his worldview is upended. Madeline is also a preacher's kid, but her interpretation of what that means includes tight, low-cut shirts and purple lipstick. Joshua could never have imagined all these changes in his former best friend. He is instantly smitten and quickly finds himself in over his head. Joshua wants to save Maddie, but first he has to find out what happened to make her act the way she does. This novel is lively and endearing, but also heavy-handed at times. Though the characters are original, they sometimes feel as if they've been set up to illustrate certain points. Teens interested in religious questions may appreciate Joshua's struggle with his spirituality and sense of self.—Eliza Langhans, Hatfield Public Library, MA
Five years after Maddie, then a blossoming 13-year-old, left, she's back for the summer in small-town Conway, S.C., all grown up with low-cut dresses to prove it, serving "penance" for the reputation she's acquired. Fellow preacher's kid Joshua, good because he's always been that way ("Being the only son of the Reverend Isaiah P. Wynn, I was expected to never break the rules. Ever"), still sees his best friend underneath the lipstick and tight clothes. He realizes that saving her might be harder than he thinks, though, when he's forced to disobey his worried, meddling parents, confront his saintly image and finally form his own opinions about premarital sex and sin. And when saving Maddie means saving himself in the process. Johnson avoids heavy-handed messages with nuanced characters and a realistic treatment of Joshua and Maddie's complex relationship. Despite-or because of-his changes, Joshua remains a nice guy and proves that they can finish last, first or whenever or however they want. Unfortunately, the cover condemns this book to Girls Only. (Fiction. YA)
Children's Literature - Naomi Butler
Joshua Wynn is a preacher's son and "good guy." He attends religious retreats and leads the church's youth group. There are no wild parties and sports for him. Then, one Sunday, he sees a gorgeous girl in church. It turns out that Maddie Smith, the subject of his torrid childhood crush, is back in town. The community condemns her for the provocative clothes she wears and rumors about her past. But Joshua can't stop thinking about her purple-painted lips. Can he save her without losing himself? The story is as personal as one might expect, and this sense of intimacy makes it an extremely interesting reading. There's humor and anger and a whole host of growing-up feelings and happenings. The situation is not easy for Joshua. It is an exploration of pain and anger and the process of figuring out how to channel negative emotions elsewhere. Readers will find the book extremely interesting and amusing. Reviewer: Naomi Butler
VOYA - Karen Sykeny
This coming-of-age novel features twelve-year-old Joshua Wynn, son of a local preacher, who is always the obedient, good boy. His best friend from childhood through middle school is Maddie Smith whose father is also a preacher. She is to move away with her parents so the two friends promise to write each other always. However, Joshua soon stops hearing from Maddie and five years pass. After Joshua sees a beautiful girl he recognizes as Maddie in his church, Joshua tries to rekindle their friendship despite the rumors of her being a troubled girl with a bad reputation. Boundaries and relationships are explored and pushed between friends, parents/ child, and the role of religion in Joshua's life in order to discover the truth behind the rumors concerning Maddie. He tries to stand beside his old friend in order to "save her." Ideas of forgiveness, second chances, pre-marital sex, becoming an adult, respect for parental wisdom, and making tough decisions to help a troubled friend all come to the forefront in this story. Joshua must decide what kind of person he is and what this means in leading a good life. Readers who enjoy problem novels concerning teen life and those who enjoy identifying with characters who discuss the role of religion in life should take pleasure in this book; however, the role of religion/ faith in this story does not make this novel an inspirational read. The characters feel real and they deal with the real life issues most teens face. Reviewer: Karen Sykeny
Read an Excerpt
Ms. Regina Howard, our older-than-Moses choir director, had a set of rules we were all supposed to abide by on Sunday morning. Don't chew gum. Pay attention to the sermon. No talking. You know, the usual stuff.
Being the only son of the Reverend Isaiah P. Wynn, I was expected to never break the rules. Ever. Which was why I grew more and more irritated as Tony and the rest of the guys in the choir stand kept whispering to each other. Of course, I hadn't been included in the conversation, even though I was sitting smack dab in the middle of the group.
I tugged on Tony's robe. "Will y'all shut up? Y'all are going to get us in trouble."
"Sorry," Tony mumbled, although he didn't look at me. Something in the audience had captured his attention. Whatever it was, it was a lot more interesting than Dad's sermon. I tried to follow his gaze, but nothing or no one special in the congregation caught my eye.
As soon as the guys quieted down, I leaned closer to Tony. "So what were you looking at so hard?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said, his breath sweet with the scent of a green apple Jolly Rancher.
Tony turned toward my father and pretended to pay attention to the sermon, but truth be told, I wasn't even listening to Dad. To be fair, it was kind of hard to pay attention to something you had already heard the night before. I was Dad's soul-saving guinea pig.
"Come on, Tony," I whispered as Dad was about to launch into his final point. "Just tell me what y'all were looking at."
Tony sighed. "Weren't you just saying something about how I needed to shut up? Something about getting into trouble?"
He grinned. "Fifth pew. Third one from the aisle," he said. "The hottie in the black dress."
Had he forgetten where we were? "Tony, I'm not about to--"
"Hey, you're the one that asked," he said. "Don't look if you don't want to. But she kind of looks like Jenn, from a distance."
My gaze raced past the first four pews. Past Delano Jackson, in a striped shirt that looked three sizes too small. Past Mrs. Luretha Mae Madison, with her big white pillbox hat.
And then I saw her. But she wasn't my ex-girlfriend.
"I can't... " I blinked hard, just to make sure I wasn't making a mistake. "I can't believe... "
"Okay, so maybe she doesn't look like Jenn," Tony said. "Still, she looks good."
I would have nodded, but I was too busy staring at the girl.
No, not girl. Woman.
No, not Jenn. Maddie.
Tony nudged me. "You see what she's wearing?
Any second now, I bet she's going to bust out of that dress."
I frowned. "Shut up."
"I mean it, Tony. Shut up."
He scowled but kept his eyes on Maddie. I wanted to raise my Bible to his face to block his view. She didn't deserve to be gawked at.
Tony did have a point, though. Her dress was awfully formfitting. I didn't realize that she had become so... blessed. But then again, I hadn't seen her in over five years.
I turned back to Tony, who was still staring at her. I dug my elbow into his ribs, hard enough for his breathing to stop.
"Do you have to stare at her like that?" I asked.
He rubbed his side. "Don't blame me. Daniel's the one that started it."
I looked past Tony at the other guys in our row of the choir stand, each of their gazes locked onto Maddie. At least for today, the tenor section of the choir had conveniently chosen to ignore the tenth commandment.
Dad ground through his sermon, finally bringing it to a close in his usual thunderous fashion. The entire congregation leapt to their feet and clapped their hands in praise. Well, almost everyone. Maddie stayed firmly in her seat.
After all the announcements had been made and all the collection plates had been passed around, Dad proclaimed his final amen. Seconds later, Maddie marched toward the door.
I pried off my white choir robe and dumped it into Tony's hands. "Hold on to this for me. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"But what about the youth group meeting?"
"Tell Donna to start without me."
From the Hardcover edition.