book review: Saving Maddie

book review: Saving Maddie

date: March, 2010; Delacorte Press/Random House
main character: Joshua Wynn
People whom I email know that I’ve grown into the habit of reading books and waiting a week (or two) before sitting down and composing a review. I’ll say ‘it’s coming. It’s coming!!’ and I kind of eventually get around to writing. I’ve read some really great books lately, but the reviews just haven’t come easily.
I finished Saving Maddie last night!
Maddie haunted me and I’ve been talking about the book all day long. I’ve recommended it to a couple of young ladies. I’ve recommended it to parents to give to their young boys who will be struggling with issues I’ve recommended to librarians in KY who are looking for hard to find books with a positive Black male protaganist and I recommended it to teachers who are always on the lookout for good books that appeal to both boys and girls and I’m recommending it to you!

Saving Maddie is going to suffer from having such a wonderfully luscious chick cover. It’s a book for both boys and girls who need to be reminded of their basic goodness and of the importance of staying true to the goodness of their own voice. It seems to work from the premise that we’re all good people whom sometimes make bad choices.

The story? Maddie and Joshua are childhood friends and both are preachers kids. They are extreme examples of what happens to PKs: either living in their father’s shadows or living on the wild side. As childhood friends, they remember the basic goodness they know in each other and when Maddie returns to town after having been gone for some time, everyone else sees the new, wild, physically mature Maddie. Joshua loved her, now he’s in love with her. But, he’s the goody two shoes preacher kid. Where could this relations possibly go? Don’t assume you know what’s going to happen with this one! This is a contemporary coming of age story, one where we really feel the ‘children’ working through their issues and evolving into adults. Johnson masterfully develops his characters as they maintain their own voices, falter at times and search for possibilities. Encouraging adults show up along the way, providing guidance and developing the story.

The ending left me wanting more! I wanted to call Varian Johnson and ask what happened, but I calmly repeated “It’s only a book; It’s only a book.” I liked these characters and I wanted the best for them.

Did Joshua save Mattie? Himself? Or maybe Maddie did the saving because she’s the one who told Joshua he needed to know what he believed in his own heart.

I like that this book gives our children something besides violent issues to consider. Rather, it takes them into deep-seated issues that shape who we are and how we treat one another and it’s done so in a book that is appropriate for the classroom.

I’d love to give this one away, but I’ve already passed it along!

14 thoughts on “book review: Saving Maddie

  1. I have to say, this face doesn’t suggest a black girl to me…but it’s a stunning cover. I also wouldn’t have guessed the story had a male protagonist…


  2. You make the book sound great! My daughter really like My Life as a Rhombus (except the ending she says) and I look forward to getting here this one. But you say it’s in Joshua’s voice? That cover is bad in that case.

    As a PK kid (now adult) I look forward to reading this one too!


  3. So happy to see such a thoughtful write-up of my friend Varian’s book. It’s exciting to think of how many different readers need a book like this. And I must ask: You are a librarian in KY? I am a YA writer in KY, and I’d love to connect!


  4. Brain,
    I liked Rhombus, too but I think I liked Maddie even better. I’ll be looking forward to hearing what you think of this one!

    Close! I’m in IN!


  5. Oh oh I have this book and now I can’t wait to read it even more!!!!!! I love the cover actually (she looks Black to me) but I do think it’s very girl friendly and I don’t expect any guy would be too happy walking around with this book with that cover. Oh book covers! I loved Life As a Rhombus and I exepct I’ll love Saving Maddie even more. From your review it sounds like Mr. Johnson really does know how to write about tough issues without passing judgement. I need to read his first book too, Polka Dots in a Room Full of Plaid.


  6. While I really think this book will miss a lot of readers because of the cover, I do have to say this generation is a bit different. I’ve had boys in my media center check out Drama High Books because they liked looking at the young lady on the cover. I don’t know how clear the definition is for high schoolers today.


  7. I loved this one too! I just found out from Varian on Twitter that a sequel from Madeline’s POV is on its way so hopefully that will satisfy your desire for more – I had the same feeling.


  8. Yes, he did mention that! Isn’t it amazing how much and how little we knew about her at the same time?

    I’m eager to hear what my students have to say about the book!


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