I am beyond thrilled to be part of Jennifer Mathieu’s blog tour for Devoted. I had the chance to read Devoted a few months ago and I fell in love with it to the point I could not stop talking about it. My friend Julie began reading it because I couldn’t shut up about it and then she fell in love with it. It also helped that I am completely fascinated by religions that border on cult like tendencies, which Mathieu covered extremely well. I also was excited to ask her some questions about Devoted.
Well, in part it did come from my fascination with the Duggar family, but I have always been interested in extremes when it comes to religion. Some of my favorite books are nonfiction books about childhood religious experiences as well as books about cults and how they form. I highly recommend Julia Scheeres’s book JESUS LAND about her fundamentalist upbringing as well as her book A THOUSAND LIVES about the Jonestown cult. I’m the type of person who spends hours reading Wikipedia pages about such things, so DEVOTED felt like a natural offshoot of that interest.
The Duggar family recently made news for their show being canceled. While the family in your book is not a placeholder for the Duggar family, after all the research that you did, what are your thoughts about the scandal?
My first thoughts are with the victims. It breaks my heart that these young women were hurt in this way and that there was no proper follow through in terms of real counseling for them or their abuser. It also pains me that they were forced to continue living with their abuser.
It’s incredibly troublesome that the family went first to church elders instead of law enforcement or family counseling, but it’s very common in this world, at least according to my research. Therapy is seen as suspect, and mental health issues or complex issues such as abuse are usually dealt with by prayer alone. In DEVOTED, Rachel’s mother has depression related to a miscarriage, but Rachel’s family never utilizes the help of a licensed counselor or medication, despite the obvious fact that she needs it desperately.
Another aspect of the situation involving Josh Duggar that is incredibly troublesome to me is that there is so much pressure on women and girls in this culture to be modest so as to not tempt men and boys. I find it maddening that more than likely these victims were made to feel that this was somehow partly their fault, which is ridiculous. Even if they understood on some level that they were not at fault, they were more than likely pressured to “forgive” their abuser. The situation becomes about the abuser’s need to be forgiven and redeemed as opposed to anything the victims have endured. I highly recommend reading Vyckie Garrison’s No Quivering blog and Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism blog for more detailed information on how this community handles sexual abuse. It’s highly disturbing.
What a great question! Even before this recent scandal involving Josh Duggar, I had stopped watching the Duggars’ show. What was once a novelty or curiosity became too painful to watch as I had interviewed and read about many women raised in similar families who had heartbreaking stories to tell. At the same time, I also began to understand what makes a parent join such an extreme world and raise their children in such extreme circumstances – it often comes from a hunger to provide the very best for their own children after a difficult childhood themselves. So I began to have more compassion for some of these folks even as I became more uncomfortable with their actions.
One of the things I enjoyed throughout your novel Devoted was the fact that while Rachel’s life was rocked to its core, she still believed in God. Unlike Lauren who went the complete opposite way when she left the religion. Not that there was a right or a wrong way to deal with something like that, did you always know that Rachel’s faith would stay true?
I think I did on some level although I wasn’t totally sure as I started drafting the novel. But as I got to know Rachel, I realized she had a hunger to know God and to feel something on a deeper, spiritual level – you could call it a soul level – even as she questioned her own family and upbringing. Then I understood that Rachel would end the story as someone who would still call herself a Christian. As I was writing, I realized that Lauren and Rachel had very different reactions to a similar upbringing, but I think – from my research – that that’s quite realistic and it added some interesting tension to the second half of the novel. To be honest, I think Rachel’s spiritual journey is based partly on my own. I no longer practice the faith of my childhood, and I’ve attended several different churches and asked myself a lot of questions over the years, but I have come to appreciate many aspects of my childhood faith where I once criticized it heavily and wanted nothing to do with it. I believe faith for most of us is a journey of a lifetime, and it’s different for everyone.
What are you working on now?
I don’t have a title yet, but I’m working on my third book for Roaring Brook Press, and it should be out in Fall 2016. It’s ripped from the headlines, in a way, and was inspired by a similar case that actually took place in Missouri in 2006. It opens with a young boy who is kidnapped from his small Texas town. Thanks to a sharp-eyed eye witness, he is found a few days later, but when law enforcement discovers him inside the abductor’s apartment, they also find a teenage boy who was abducted four years before by the same man. The teenage boy has developed what some call Stockholm Syndrome – while physically free, he has been too terrified to leave his abductor. The bulk of the narrative begins a few months after the boys are recovered, and it’s about the friendship that forms between the older boy and the older sister of the younger boy. It’s about two teens whose lives are linked by a bizarre tragedy, and it’s about secrets, guilt, hope, and finding a best friend in the most unlikely place. I just finished the first draft and will be started revisions soon. This one was a tough one to write, but the characters were so real to me, and I cared about them so very much. I hope readers will feel the same way.
The most important question: dog or cat?
Ha! I have one dog and two cats. I love my dog. I tolerate my cats. They’re old and ornery and fight with each other and wake me up in the middle of the night by puking up hairballs on my bed. No joke! I’m a big believer that when you adopt an animal you commit to taking care of it for its lifetime, so don’t worry – my felines are probably spoiled. But after they go to their reward, I think we’ll be a dog-only family.
Thanks for answering my questions Jennifer, it was a pleasure having you on the blog!
Other Stops on The Blog Tour:
June 2: Ex Libris Kate | @exlibris_Kate
June 3: YAdultReview | @_ash
June 4: Jenuine Cupcakes | @cupcakegirly
June 5: MacTeenBooks | @fiercereads
June 6: Bookish Broads | @BookishBroads
June 7: My My Shelf and I | @MyShelfandI
June 8: Into the Hall of Books | @bookwormashley
June 9: I Read Banned Books | @jenbigheart
June 10: Rainy Day Ramblings | @rnydayramblings
June 11: Dana Square | @danasquare
June 12: Book Addict’s Guide | @bookaddictguide
June 13: ReadingTeen.net | @readingteen
June 14: ReadNowSleepLater.com | @mslbooks