cover image Saving Maddie

Saving Maddie

Varian Johnson, . . Delacorte, $16.99 (231pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73804-0

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.)