Saving Maddie

Delacorte Press / Random House, March 9, 2010

Joshua Wynn is a preacher’s son and a “good boy” who always does the right thing—until Maddie Smith 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, curses, 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, Joshua 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 Joshua 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?

My Thoughts on the Book

How do you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved? And more importantly, how do you save someone without losing yourself?

These two questions were the driving inspiration behind Saving Maddie–from when it first began as a manuscript titled Saint Peter through the version it sold as (aka: The Path of the Righteous) to it’s current, published form. There’s certainly more to the novel than these questions–themes of love and lust, weighing the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, self-sacrifice, and the idea of whether or not a person actually is in need of being saved all play important parts in the book. But when it boils down to it, Saving Maddie is very much about what it means to “save” someone.

To “save someone” is a mutli-layered term–in the traditional sense, it can mean to physically remove someone from injury or danger. It could refer to rescuing someone from psychological and emotional trauma. In a spiritual sense, to save someone is to turn them toward God and away from sin. A variation of “save” also means to store or protect an object; to prevent it from coming into harm; to safeguard it.

I think we see bits of all of these forms of “save” in the novel—thus, Saving Maddie is an apt title (though I’m still partial to The Path of the Righteous). Of course, these definitions still don’t answer the two main questions: how do you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, and how do you save someone without losing yourself?

I honestly don’t know if there are any real answers to these questions. But perhaps if you love someone–really, truly, deeply love someone–you don’t need answers.

You just dive in head first, and pray that you don’t drown.


A Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of 2011

“Johnson avoids heavy-handed messages with nuanced characters and a realistic treatment of Joshua and Maddie’s complex relationship.”– Kirkus

“[A] sincere story…the questions Josh weighs about morality, God, and desire feel wholly genuine.” — Publishers Weekly

“Joshua’s narration is immediate and yearning, and his struggle with identity is sympathetically relayed.” — The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Joshua’s confusion about how narrow his path must be…keeps readers turning pages. And the kissing doesn’t hurt, either.” — Booklist

“…lively and endearing…” — School Library Journal

“Varian Johnson has created a cast of multi-dimensional characters which young adult readers will relate to in Saving Maddie. This tale leads its readers through the apprehensions and anxieties of young relationships, and asks the question of whether the ‘lost’ can be ‘saved.'”– Sacramento Book Review

“Kudos to Johnson…a masterful dénouement.” — Austin American-Statesman

“Johnson masterfully develops his characters as they maintain their own voices, falter at times and search for possibilities.” — Crazy Quilts

“…an immensely hopeful book, one that asks the reader to look beyond appearances to the person inside.” — Book Nut

“Johnson explores issues…of belief, spirituality, religion. Of how hard it is to practice what one preaches, and what exactly does that mean. And he does so in a way that respects both sides of the coin: Joshua’s path and Maddie’s path.” — A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy