The book begins with a shocking event, the first major domino to fall in the story. When she learns that her rabbi is committing infidelity, fifteen-year-old Rachel cannot believe it. She doesn't know if she should tell anyone about it - and who would she tell? Her parents are arguing more and more lately, her best friend, Alexis, is pulling away from her, and her widowed grandmother, once vivacious and happy, is fading away, becoming increasingly fragile and sorrowful. Thankfully, there's Jake, a childhood friend who recently moved back to town, and he seems to be just as interested in Rachel as she is in him.
Intentions is a true bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, capturing the time in Rachel's life when she realizes that the adults she knows and respects aren't perfect - that they can be just as mixed-up or confused or untruthful as kids and teenagers can be. Deborah Heiligman handles these potentially devastating revelations with tact and truth, allowing Rachel to be burdened by secrets without wallowing in self-pity. It can be difficult to uphold one's high standards when surrounded by people whose moral compasses seem to be broken or misdirected, temporarily or otherwise. When confronted with major choices that are potentially overwhelming, Rachel doesn't always do or say "the right thing." First-person narrative is the perfect choice for this book. Rachel's internal dialogue is well-expressed, even when she's feeling out of it. She's torn between wanting to tell people what happened, which could break up relationships and families, and staying silent, which is tearing her up inside. She starts to act out, damaging some of her friendships in the process.
This book is about secrets and truths, about trust and betrayal, about intention and atonement. This quote from Laurie Halse Anderson, printed on the book's cover, is completely true: "Overflows with innocence, faith, love, and the painful cost paid when all three are betrayed." Rachel's faith in her authority figures is shaken up by a series of events, some connected, some simply happening around the same time. The novel looks honestly at what happens to people in a state of shock, and how we might act out of character when stricken by grief or scandal. Our actions and words may not match our intentions when our emotions are heightened. There is also a frame to this story, a simple prologue and epilogue, the latter of which made the introduction worthwhile, thanks to something I didn't see coming.
But you can't go back, can you?
I tell myself it's OK.
I tell myself it's better to be older and to know what's what. I tell myself it doesn't feel the same to watch somebody else fly a kite. You have to fly it yourself. - Page 219
"You made me-" I don't know what to say except "old." - Page 246
Related booklist: Tough Issues for Teens