"The Believer's Daughter" is the second in Caitlyn Duffy's "Treadwell Academy" Series. It's an interesting idea for a series. Unlike many YA series, where you follow the same large core of characters through book after book, the "Treadwell" series takes a different tack. Each novel is self-contained, with the common thread being that the protagonist is a student at Treadwell Academy, a posh New England girls boarding school.
"The Believer's Daughter" is named Grace Mathison. Her father, Chuck Mathison, is one of America's wealthiest, most-successful TV evangelists. Reverend Mathison and his wife have given their two kids--Grace, age 15, and her brother Aaron, 18--a tremendous childhood. The kids grew up in a palatial Arizona home, with their own stables, swimming pools, even a little train that circled the family compound.
One night at Treadwell, Grace finds her roommate packing her bag and leaving their dorm. When Grace asks what's the matter, the girl responds brusquely that she'll know soon enough. It turns out her roommate's father has just been indicted for bilking billions from investors in a huge Ponzi Scheme. Bad news for her.
Very soon, Grace finds herself in an almost identical situation. Her brother, a student in a Massachusetts boys school, has made headlines. It seems he knocked-up his girlfriend. She had an abortion, and her family has gone to the tabloids, saying that Aaron was the one who demanded she abort their child. He wasn't, but the story was out.
Aaron decides to disappear, and convinces Grace--who's unhappy at Treadwell--to join him. The two hop a train to New York City, where they begin setting up new identities and trying to survive. On the train into the city, a strange boy with spidery tattoos on his hands smiles at Grace. She's intrigued, but doesn't give him another thought.
The siblings get fake ID's made with their new names, then set about finding jobs. They sublet a tiny two-bedroom apartment for $1800 a month. Aaron finds a job waiting tables at an upscale Manhattan bistro, where he makes tons in tip money. Grace gets a job in an art supply store. Everything seems stable, till Aaron suffers a fall at work and breaks his leg. He used his fake ID at the hospital, who couldn't find his insurance information, so he sneaks out, hobbling without even a pair of crutches.
He can't work, and soon Grace has her own job problems. Along the way, she makes a friend--Jacinta, a senior at a beauty academy, where she can fix Grace's hair (and dye it all kinds of bright colors). Grace also runs into the boy from the train. His name is Felix, and he and Grace become friends, then boyfriend and girlfriend. Eventually, he even gets Grace a job at the tattoo parlor where he works. She uses her artistic skills and training, and begins making good money designing custom tattoos for the shop's customers.
Oh, yeah: when news of Aaron's abortion controversy broke, certain government agencies began investigating the good Reverend Mathison, and his ministry's finances. They find some most definitely un-Christian fraud going on, and soon Grace and Aaron's parents are on the lam, too.
"The Believer's Daughter" is a really good story. Grace suffers a crisis of faith, feeling that God has abandoned her, so she decides to abandon Him right back. It's funny: Grace stops going to church, and takes off her Cross necklace, but her values don't change: she still goes out of her way to help others as best she can.
Grace and Aaron scrimp to extremes, learning how to stretch ramen noodles, and where to buy a cheap bagel for breakfast. Their tiny apartment has roaches, and they have no furniture. It's a struggle, a far cry from the life of privilege to which they're accustomed.
But they do struggle on, and with a fortuitous break here and there, they eke out an existence, growing as people, and learning about love and friendship--hard lessons not taught in posh boarding schools.
"The Believer's Daughter" is also not a realistic portrayal of what teenaged runaways experience upon moving to New York. The story hardly glamorizes their life, and admittedly the two overcome plenty of obstacles and real-world misfortunes as they survive. But they were able to find a relatively cheap sublet. Nobody got mugged, and their crappy apartment was never burgled. They were able to find decent jobs that enabled them to pay their rent, and though their accommodations were scarcely luxurious, they never spent even one night on the street.
Normally, presenting a story like this would annoy me, thinking it almost glamorizes the runaways' lives, and downplays their struggles.
The reason this doesn't bother me in "The Believer's Daughter" is that author Caitlyn Duffy writes a lengthy preface, disclaiming that her story is just that--a story--and that real runaways often face unspeakable horrors on the streets. She gives sound advice for teens thinking about running away, as well as for friends of potential runaways. She provides phone and internet contact information for organizations who help runaways. Ms Duffy's story involved a brother and sister running away from their previous lives, but she sets up the tale by emphatically saying that this is fiction, and that running away is a bad idea.
Kudos to her for doing that.
When I read "The Rock Star's Daughter," the first of the "Treadwell Academy" series, I didn't understand that the novels would all be independent, yet tangential to one another through the school. This is a beautiful idea for a YA series, in that it opens up so many possibilities for storylines, without tying the action to one specific location or group of characters. In the "Beautiful Creatures" series, you knew every novel would be about the same cast doing the same things in the same little town. The "Treadwell" series offers virtually unlimited options.
In "The Rock Star's Daughter," we never even set foot on Treadwell's campus. The protagonist mentioned the school, and shared memories from Treadwell, or apprehensions about returning to Treadwell, but nothing real-time. In "The Believer's Daughter," we're on campus for the first couple of chapters.
Another thing I liked in "The Believer's Daughter" was the way two characters from the first novel were worked in. This was done in a natural, effortless way; if you hadn't read the first book, you wouldn't notice these little mentions at all, nor would not knowing these characters in any way impede your understanding of this book.
Despite being set in NYC, this novel--to me at least--had less objectionable material than did the first (which was fine, except for some teenaged drinking). The book is intended for ages 12 & up, and that seems about right. (As previously noted, I have no kids of my own, so if your kid ends up warped from reading this, don't blame me.)
"The Believer's Daughter" tackles some tough moral issues along its journey: faith, familial loyalty, right vs wrong, prejudging people, and abortion. I think Ms Duffy handles these nicely, without being ham-handed or overbearing. They blend pretty seamlessly into the plot.
As I said in my review of "The Rock Star's Daughter," I have no idea how that book ended up on my Kindle. I know how this one and the third installment ("The Vicount's Daughter") did, though. I was intrigued by this world Caitlyn Duffy created, and I happily bought them and downloaded them, same as I'll do when #4 comes out. This is a good series.