Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

Every now and then it’s healthy to go to the library and grab a random book off the shelf.

Okay, my search wasn’t entirely random. I desperately wanted something with no supernatural elements (yes, you read that right). Quick explanation: I’m tired of paranormal books, mostly because I’ve been revising my own for far too long.

So after a brief jacket check to make sure Saving Maddie had no vampires or were-amoebas in it, I brought it home and, one afternoon, I read it. The story is told in first-person point of view by Joshua Wynn, the seventeen-year-old son of a preacher. His childhood best friend, Maddie, returns to town and she’s no longer the young, innocent(ish) girl he’d known. Not only does Joshua battle with conflicting directives from his parents (help Maddie/stay away from that girl), but he’s also battling conflicting desires (be a good boy/have fun).

Joshua’s conflict was well-written. The pacing and tension alone kept me going, as well as the mystery as to why Maddie turned out to be such a “bad girl.” The prose itself, though, was sensual and sensuous. This paragraph illustrates this nicely:

She closed her eyes and I closed mine. I took in her scent again – I didn’t think I’d ever eat another scoop of vanilla ice cream without dreaming about her.

I’m a huge fan of sensory description, and Johnson does this all over the place (honestly, I just picked a page at random and found that paragraph).

Another interesting point: Johnson took a young adult male protagonist and added tons of girl appeal (a phrase I read in Mary Kole’s blog entry Boy Protagonists in YA). The “girl appeal” reminded me a lot of Beautiful Creatures (which I reviewed awhile ago), and strangely enough, The Virgin Suicides (which I read a long time ago). Which brings me to a total sideways thought: does “girl appeal” mean that the male protagonist has to be totally smitten with a girl character, in order to appeal to female readers? Based on Kole’s post, and my own reading, this might be the case.

But now it’s time to wrap up my review.

Saving Maddie was a refreshing trip back into a time when the end of the world seemed to balance on adolescent moral dilemmas, and everything felt so real, so crucial, and so brand-new.

You can visit Varian Johnson’s website here.

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