A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Devil Springs by Faydra Stratton is one of those books that a lot of people can relate to: whether you’ve struggled with your faith, grew up in a small town that you dreamed of breaking out of, or even if you have had less-than-pleasant relatives. This book was a little bit outside of my normal purview, as I often avoid books that focus on religion. As somebody who identifies as agnostic, I usually can’t relate to books that focus on characters struggling with their faith. But, when the author reached out to me about this book I was immediately interested – I’ve been trying to branch out and read genres of books that I wouldn’t normally read. Plus I’ve been trying to read more indie authors.
The devil has come to Devil Springs. Except he hasn’t. Not at all. But try and tell that to Mesa Crane’s grandmother, Mayor Avis Kneller. This is not the senior year Mesa had pictured for herself. She’s used to her grandmother’s restrictive dress code and no boys rule, but thanks to some skinny-dipping cheerleaders making some questionable social media posts, Avis is ratcheting up her expectations and decreeing spiritual warfare. Mesa is sick of being bullied into fake piety, but defying her grandmother will mean losing the small freedoms she does have, including her spot on the cross country team. Most unfortunate, since she’s started training with the school’s best (and okay, admittedly hot) athlete, Cody Howard. But when Mesa won’t get baptized—as Grandma Avis mandates—her isolation begins. The actual devil may not have come to Devil Springs, but judgment sure has. Can Mesa endure until graduation? Or will she find the swell of faith she needs to stand up to her grandmother once and for all?
Devil Springs was definitely a quick read – if my day had not been so hectic, I definitely would’ve finished it in one sitting. The plot is well-paced, and the story grabs you early – particularly through empathy for the main character (Mesa). This empathy is mainly derived from her living situation – she lives with her abusive grandmother who constantly pushes religion on her. This book is largely emotionally driven rather than plot driven – it’s hard not to feel empathetic for Mesa (who is not religious) as she goes through the struggle of living in a small town where religion is king. It’s impossible not to feel for her as she navigates complex social relationships in such a small town while also dealing with growing up and having aspirations too big for her town.
The only major issue with this book was its side characters. There is a decent size cast of side characters including the Mesa’s best friend, her best friend’s family, and other students at school. All of these characters are introduced but very few of them actually received any definition or side stories. I was excited when I started reading because I’m a big proponent for main characters having strong friendships. Mesa’s friendship with her best friend started strong, but it didn’t progress and basically got dropped from the story. Outside of her best friend, she really didn’t have a lot of relationships with other characters. Also there was one character in particular that confused me: Mesa’s grandfather – he only made a brief appearance and it felt largely without context – I wish he had been utilized more in the story.
If you’re looking to support independent authors in this turbulent time, this would be a great book to start with. It’s an interesting case study in the impact of religion and what it means to come to terms with your faith or lack there of. Devil Springs is an emotional book ranging from happiness to rage as you read how Mesa’s family treated her. The only weak point what is the disuse of secondary characters. 4/5