Emily's Book Review: Maggie Come Lately by Michelle Buckman
Maggie McCarthy isn’t your average sixteen year-old. While other girls her age are at parties or the mall, she’s out looking for a new washing machine or making dinner for her dad and two younger brothers. Old before her time, Maggie has played housewife since her mother committed suicide when she was only four years old. On her sixteenth birthday, she prays that this will be the year that she becomes pretty and popular and finally has a life of her own, and her wish comes true, but it certainly doesn’t happen in the way she expects. First, her father starts dating Andrea, a woman bent on redecorating the house, making Maggie wear cuter clothes, and eventually taking her place as the woman of the home. Maggie is just focused on getting through day-to-day life and adjusting to her new family dynamic when she hears a noise in the woods and goes to investigate. It’s there where she finds her popular classmate Sue wounded, raped, and left for dead. She saves Sue’s life, and soon she is the most talked-about girl at school other than Sue herself. After years of feeling invisible among her peers and unappreciated by her family, Maggie finally has time to be a normal teenager, but she soon finds that popularity isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. She must decide whether to use her notoriety for a chance to hang out with the in-crowd (and possibly compromise her values), or to become an advocate for other girls like Sue, who may have been raped, molested, or abused.
It’s hard for me to nail down my opinion of Maggie Come Lately. The book is undeniably well-written and its characters are undeniably well-developed, but it moved somewhat slowly for me. The book picks up its pace once Maggie finds Sue in the woods, so perhaps I would have been more engaged if this tragedy had taken place sooner. Buckman does spend the first part of the book introducing a variety of sketchy men in Maggie’s neighborhood who later become suspects in the rape, and their actions create a good amount of suspense later on. Could it be the bearded stranger who recently started hanging out in the area? Is it Mr. Smith, the man with colorful button-down shirts and a cat who is constantly running way? Or is it Mr. Dweller, a trusted youth group volunteer who is loved and respected by everyone in the community other than Maggie? I really respected that a Christian book didn’t back down from the notion that a church leader can be involved in rape or sexual abuse, and I loved that Maggie’s distrust of him didn’t keep her from having a strong faith in God. Though I have limited experience with Melody Carlson’s books (Carlson is another prominent Christian writer for teen girls), I thought Buckman did a better job presenting an issue such as rape than Carlson might. In Maggie Come Lately, characters come to spiritual realizations gradually, and Maggie is a far better developed character than the characters in some of Carlson’s books. I also simply appreciated that Maggie seemed like an ordinary, unassuming teen girl. While other young-adult heroines are bold and quick-witted, Maggie is a character I think quieter teen girls may be able to relate to more easily. While it’s fun to read about smart teens with sharp senses of humor traveling to Amsterdam or plotting school pranks, it’s always hard for me to imagine myself in their place at the age of sixteen. Maggie, however, is someone I could see myself being like as a teen—though I still don’t know if I’m as responsible as she is or if I’d be brave enough to go into the woods if I heard someone moaning in pain.
Overall, this is definitely a book I would recommend. Christian readers will appreciate a well-written book that tackles a topic like rape from a godly perspective, but I don’t think the book’s references to God or Maggie’s faith are prevalent enough or preachy enough to turn other readers off.