Thursday, August 30, 2012

Intentions by Deborah Heiligman

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Rachel thought she was grown up enough to accept that no one is perfect. Her parents argue, her grandmother has been acting strangely, and her best friend doesn't want to talk to her. But none of that could have prepared her for what she overheard in her synagogue's sanctuary.

Now Rachel's trust in the people she loves is shattered, and her newfound cynicism leads to reckless rebellion. Her friends and family hardly recognize her, and worse, she can hardly recognize herself. But how can the adults in her life lecture her about acting with kavanah, intention, when they are constantly making such horribly wrong decisions themselves? This is a witty, honest account of navigating the daunting line between losing innocence and entering adulthood—all while figuring out who you really want to be.

Growing up is a pain especially when it seems that everyone around you is either disappointing you or treating you differently. Sometimes it's hard to know which way is up or even believe that things eventually sort themselves out. In Intentions, Rachel is unsure of how to approach the problems assaulting her on many fronts – her parents’ fighting, her deteriorating friendship with her once best friend, her grandmother’s ailing health and finally a potentially explosive revelation about her rabbi. It's hard not to empathize with what it’s like to be that age going through rocky changes that leave you feeling helpless at best.

My first impression of Rachel is that she’s a pent up ball of anger just kind of hovering, waiting to move forward.  Her tendency as a narrator to list every thought and step going through her mind had me wondering if it was therapeutic for her to focus on each minute detail.  I found it tedious initially – I mean really, I don’t need to know all the steps between opening the door to the bathroom and going to the bathroom. But I began to ease up on her later because the very thing that bugged me in the beginning entertained me. Case in point, she goes through all the steps involved in primping and prepping for a much anticipated date. It was hilarious especially because it's so accurate.

The story gains some traction when Rachel finally decides to take action and confront her best friend Alexis about the state of their friendship. It’s a pretty neat scene and the chant that goes though her mind clearly shows her resolve. However, try as she might, it doesn’t make a difference and things go terribly wrong between them. In results in Rachel making a very poor choice with some harmful repercussions that she has to fix later. On the flip side, as one friendship ends, a new one begins as she becomes closer to Jake, a boy she’s had a crush on for a while. Jake is a pleasant surprise offering up the kind of support she desperately needs at this time.

I can’t go into detail any further without giving away the rest of the book. Suffice it to say that I was very much drawn in and even became a bit teary-eyed at parts. Rachel goes through the tough journey of loss, forgiveness and owning up to her mistakes. That last part is the hardest and takes the biggest toll on her. But through that debacle she receives support and encouragement which helps to reestablish her trust in the most important people in her life. It’s clear that her reliance on her religious upbringing is central to her. She finds her faith again and is even surprised by someone she least expects it from. It provides a much-needed feel good atmosphere that helps the book end on a positive note.

So Intentions' somber tone may not have grabbed me from the very beginning but it grew on me. And I very much liked the message it sent.  Rachel ends up being someone to admire, making some tough decisions, confronting her fears and taking control. All in a day's work on her path to maturity.

~ Bel

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