Intentions by Deborah Heiligman
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: rabbi, temple, fighting parents, distant best friend, first love
Format read: ARC from NetGalley
How I heard about it: Heard DH read an excerpt at NYC Teen Author Festival in March
Summary: In a different kind of coming-of-age story, Rachel is forced to face uncomfortable truths when she overhears her rabbi having sex in her synagogue.
Rachel’s world is shaken to its core when she overhears her rabbi getting down in the synagouge. I mean, who can blame her? A man she has known forever, seen her through bad times, listened carefully when she had questions about her religion, and has been a person of superior authority in her life has just shocked the crap out of her. So not only are her parents constantly fighting and her favorite relative in the world a shell of her former self, but now she holds the heavy burden of keeping this secret.
It’s not even so much about who the rabbi was with… but the aftermath of Rachel’s discovery.
Basically, Rachel — a perfect student, devout to her religion, a goodie-two shoes of sorts — is a complete and utter mess. And I couldn’t have loved that more about her. She’s just clumsy with life in general and I could relate. The way she talks to boys, the way she tries to balance her school work or keep her room clean… it’s just never perfect, a tiny tiny thing always goes wrong. And sadly, she has no one to turn to. Her best friend is MIA (for reasons she doesn’t know) and she still hasn’t found the perfect avenue when it comes to talking to Jake, the boy she loves. Heiligman has really succeeded in creating a flawed character who despite her experiences with a traumatic situation is still spunky, funny, and sensitive without being a drama queen. Watching her rabbi teach about goodness and God after finding out his secret is confusing and causes her to have a healthy internal deliberation about her role within her religion and also who she wants to be on an everyday basis.
I loved the idea of adults who preach and then act in the opposite fashion. How exactly do you deal with this when adults RULE THE WORLD and you are supposed to follow their example? It’s a frustrating paradox but one that is a part of our reality, unfortunately. The other one being the need to be comforted by the very person who may be making your life a stressful wreck. How many of us can relate to those feelings?
One intriguing supporting character was Adam, the rabbi’s son, who has a tempting bad boy streak but also these quiet moments of understanding and sweetness. Even though we know Rachel has her sights set on Jake, I was very curious about what would happen with Adam, and if he was in the know about his father’s side activities. Was this why he was always acting out? I really enjoyed the arc of his character and the temptation he brought into the story. Jake, on the other hand, had his own secrets and was strangely distant with Rachel. Though, for once, it was nice to see a shyer relationship that wasn’t based on some wild chemistry. It was quiet and private, and Rachel expressed many relatable fears when it came to coming to terms with how she felt about him.
I love the technique of framing in a novel and Heiligman uses it here, beginning the books with an older Rachel, recounting the events of this particular year, and ending it the way it started — back to adult Rachel, who has returned to town for the first time since everything with the rabbi went down. I thought it was a great touch, but my only complaint is that Rachel’s younger years wrapped up a bit too quickly and we didn’t get a better glimpse at the supporting characters. The ending, however, is extremely extremely surprising, folks, in a way that made me really think about Rachel far long after I finished the book.
Intentions is a great representation of the time in your teenage years when everything just comes at you from all angles, and you are forced to see and learn things you never wanted to. For such a jaw-dropping premise, Heiligman has created a well-written world of people in various degrees of imperfection, while still weaving in the lighter moments in life. I was hooked from the very first page.