Saving Maddieby Varian Johnson
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?
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."
Meet the Author
Varian Johnson is the author of the critically acclaimed My Life as a Rhombus. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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Maddie and Joshua were best friends. They understood each other, they were both PK - Preacher's Kids. But then one day Maddie's family moves and they grow apart. Five years later she returns, but she is not the same person. Maddie, now Madeline, has left the church and has quite a reputation as a bad girl. Joshua is determined to bring her back into the church, but finds that Madeline is opening his eyes and make him think about his beliefs. The story revolves around Josh trying to figure out what happened to Madeline in the five years she was gone that could change her so much. She hates her father and the church, but she won't say why. As Josh tries to get Madeline to open up to him, he finds her opening his mind. Forcing him to think about his beliefs instead of blindly doing what he has been taught his whole life. The two grow close and each of them learns so much more about themselves in the process. 4/5
Joshua Wynn - son of Reverend Isaiah P. Wynn and First Lady Lily Wynn of Mount Calvary church - is a seventeen year old Christian who lets his light shine. He's president of the church youth group and a member of the choir. He visits senior citizens at the Faith Nursing Home regularly, he can quote scripture as well as any adult Christian and he believes in abstaining from sex until marriage. This young man has a heart for God and he cares about doing the right thing. He also cares about Madeline (Maddie) Marie Smith. He and she were friends when they were younger but then she left Conway, South Carolina and moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Five years later Maddie moves back to Conway and she's certainly not a little girl anymore. Joshua is surprised to see the young woman she's become. Will he be able to remain true to his Christian values and help Maddie renew her faith in Christianity? Or will he forget all about being a good guy and compromise his beliefs? The Bible is Joshua's moral blueprint just as it should be for every Christian, but his peers (including Maddie) attacked him for his beliefs. He was called names like prude and self-righteous and he was made fun of because of his good choices. Sadly, that is the reality (not in every circumstance, I hope), but I didn't like it. I especially didn't like the way Tony talked to Joshua. Tony was supposed to be Joshua's friend but he was always condemning him for wanting to do the right thing. And Christians are the judgmental ones? Tony should have had the sense to follow Joshua's example. There's nothing wrong with being a good guy. And Joshua's ex-girlfriend, Jennifer - She didn't know what she had when she was with Joshua. Since Joshua's presence bothered his peers so much they must have felt they were doing wrong. They had to try to make him feel bad for his good choices so they could feel better about their not-so-good choices. I'm sure Joshua was intelligent enough to get that, but still, it can be hard to resist peer pressure; especially for a young man who's expected to be an example of all things good. We all break the rules sometimes; that's just being human. The foul language in this story was a bit much and, surprisingly, most of it came from the female character, Maddie. At age fifteen she made a bad choice and her father's reaction didn't help matters. His hurtful words caused her to rebel by taking on many bad habits that only made her feel even worse about herself. I'm thinking she had such a nasty mouth because she was hurting so badly but she could have gotten her points across without all of the profanity. She was a real good girl on the inside, I could see it. She was just bogged down with so much bad stuff that she couldn't find her way and she was too stubborn, or maybe even feeling too guilty about the bad choices she made to let anybody help her; not even Joshua, whose love for her was unconditional. It would have been nice if Joshua would have discouraged Maddie from bad behavior because I really wanted to see her happy. I wanted to say Maddie was a bad influence on Joshua, but I won't because he was old enough to make his own choices. I was so disappointed, though, when he did the things he did but, sadly, that part of the story was also realistic. It isn't always the good one who uplifts the not-so-good; sometimes the person with bad habits will pull down the one trying to live right. All-in-all, I must admit that Saving Maddie was a page turner.
I have a feeling people may shy away from this book just because of the religious aspect. Which is really unfortunate because I thought it was really awesome! Yes it has a lot of religion in it, but I think it is so much more than that. I think my biggest surprise (which I should have realized from the description) is that it's told from Josh's point of view. It so rare that the guy in the story is the "good" character. And Josh is way more than good, for a teen he's dang near saintly. Josh's issue is that he's never stopped to think for himself. He's grow up with God in the house and from a very young age has had the bible and it's message pounded into his brain. It's amazing to watch him start to realize that not everything needs to be taken at face value. I think it's appropriate for a teen to question their own religious beliefs. They spend so many years thinking how their parents think, it's only natural for them to realize they have a mind of their own. It's not a bad things either. I liked Maddie as well. She has deep seeded reasons for being troubled. And I was expecting her to be much worse than she actually was (or maybe the author made her seem more tame). I liked that she made Josh question everything. She wasn't trying to get him to go against his beliefs. She just wanted to make sure he knew what HE actually believed in. I think if the story had an epilogue we would have learned she came back to the church. She didn't need saved, she needed to come to terms with what had been done to her (both by others and herself). I was floored by the way her father treated her (and her mother allowed it). So, if you can handle the religious aspect of this book, I would highly recommend it!
Joshua Wynn has grown up being an example for other kids. He doesn't seem to mind too much, except that he had to give up playing on his school's basketball team to lead the youth group and everyone his age thinks he's a prude. But even these things don't dampen his spirits, and he works very hard to keep his reputation. He has to; he's "Joshua Wynn, the preacher's son...a shining example of what [is] good and righteous and wholesome in the world" (28). More like some kind of super-hero than a real person. It's not until Maddie comes back into his life that Joshua starts to object to the perceptions that other people have of him and the pressure that he is under, from his parents and the community, to do and be good. And no, he's never liked that he gets left out of things because he's such a goodie-two-shoes, that he's the guy other kids hide their beer from at parties, but until Maddie comes along, it's like he didn't know he could be any different. She opens up a world for him where he is not an extension of his father and his father's work. I've never been a PK, but I was definitely a goodie-two-shoes in high school who had more friends at youth group than at school. I think that Johnson has absolutely nailed that experience, or at least mirrored mine. The feelings and internal conflicts that Joshua goes through felt so authentic. He has an ongoing struggle to reconcile what he wants to do with what he's supposed to do with what everyone else is doing. The lectures from his parents ("I'm not mad, I'm disappointed."--the worst!) and the advice from his friends to just go for it (the BIG it, no less), were so familiar. And then there's Maddie, who seems so much more grown-up, experienced and figured out than Joshua. Of course he falls for her! There is definitely attraction involved, but Joshua also gets one of those I-want-to-be-you crushes on her. Saving Maddie is told from Joshua's perspective, so we don't get to see the inner workings of Maddie's head. Through her talks with Joshua, however, she becomes a fully realized and complex character. Something that makes up a large part of Maddie, and everyone else's problem with her, is that she is no longer religious. BUT she still has her faith. This disconnect between faith and religion is something that a lot of teens struggle with. Without going into great detail or getting bogged down in theology, Johnson makes Maddie an example of what it can mean to believe in God without participating in a specific religious tradition. She still considers herself spiritual and a Christian, but she doesn't go to church. Joshua sees her spirituality acted out in her life, rather than her Sunday attendance. It's a less obvious way of teaching-by-example than the kind of life he has been living, and while he may not change to be non-religious like Maddie, he definitely learns from her. Seeing how she acts out her faith in what she does rather than what she doesn't do gives him more choices for how he can show his. And he finally does that by sticking up for Maddie. I could go on and on about Saving Maddie; there are at least half a dozen more quotes left in my notes. Johnson has done something wonderful here. He's managed to capture the PK experience, and the growing-up-at-church experience, so well! And he's managed to do it in a way that, I think, will be attractive and relevant to readers who've grown up without these experiences as well. Book source: Library
Maddie and Joshua are best friends. Both kids of preachers, they have a lot in common. But then, one day Maddie and her family move away. The two vow to keep in touch, but as the years go by....the letters and communication stop. Now, it's five years later and Joshua is the perfect son. He does everything expected of him. He's involved in all the right activities. He's gone so far as to give up basketball because it doesn't fit in with all his church obligations. It's at church, as one could expect, that Joshua lays eyes on Maddie again. Though she's nothing like the awkward girl he recalls. She's definitely grown up (in all the right places) and goes by Madeline now. Coming to church dressed inappropriately immediately labels Madeline as a bad girl. Everyone has already written her off as trouble. But Joshua can't forget his friend and, with the blessing of his father, he sets out to save Madeline. Madeline has been sent to live with her aunt for the summer. She got in trouble back home, and her father has shipped her off to the small town. But Madeline doesn't need saving. She's happy with who she is and resists any attempts at any interference. As the summer unfolds, Joshua and Madeline become reacquainted, and surprisingly, it's Joshua who might just be saved. As with MY LIFE AS A RHOMBUS, I absolutely loved SAVING MADDIE. Joshua is pulled by what is expected of him, what he perceives as right and wrong, and ultimately, what he really wants for himself. Madeline makes him question everything he grew up accepting to be true. Madeline may not be a saint, far from it, but she is comfortable with who she has become and that causes Joshua much inner turmoil. There is some discussion of sex and partying, but in the context of the story, it's far from offensive and gives a complete picture of the struggle going on inside Joshua.