Rachel, as with everyone else in the community, adored Rabbi Cohn. He was her role model and a seemingly charming man. Whenever he led services, she would lap up every single word he said. In her eyes, he was perfect and he could do no wrong. That is, until the day she reached the temple early for service and realized that she had overheard the rabbi committing adultery, on the bima, no less! Knowing his sin, and knowing that he did this in a holy place causes Rachel to spiral out of control. It doesn’t help when she notices her mother and the rabbi flirting very soon after.
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.
Given the premise, it is not wonder that this books is one chaotic train wreck. Rachel’s parents are constantly fighting. Her best friend, Alexi, has completely turned on her, declaring not everything is about “perfect Raebee”. As much as she likes Jake, she is very distracted by Adam’s presence. Jake turning hot and cold confuses her feelings, whereas Adam’s moves are just so messed up, yet feel so inviting. Maybe it’s because he’s the rabbi’s son. Besides these worries, there also is her grandmother. Throughout the book, Rachel comes to learn what it means to miss someone you love. After the passing of her grandfather, her grandmother is far from herself anymore. There are only occasional shadows of glimpses of the person that she used to be.
Right from the very start, readers are thrown into Rachel’s world. She’s yelling to her fighting parents that she’s leaving the house and slams the door. Soon after her already fragile world comes crashing down on her. Almost throughout, she is bombarded with problems. Some of these are clearly the result of her own doing, while others are rather circumstantial to her. Still, she has to deal with everything, so there is no lull at all for readers. There is always something to keep readers’ attention.
The characters are all but predictable. That should be a good thing. Yet at some points, I don’t think that is necessarily the case. Most of the characters lack consistency. That makes sense for Rachel’s grandmother, who clearly suffers from dementia, or maybe then when pot comes into the picture. Otherwise, there is a lack of more stable persons who anchor the rest of the characters. Instead, most were entirely unpredictable to the point that sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was still reading about the same characters or different ones entirely.
Inconsistent characters also translate into inconsistent relationships. Most of the time they are like time bombs, just waiting to explode. On the flipside, this does contribute to the high intensity plot of this book. Those looking for almost constant highs and very few lows might actually be very well served with Intentions.
Writing style-wise, I was a little agitated at the beginning. A couple of times there’s this description of a scenario of what Rachel does next, only for her to retract that and say she did not that but did this instead. It’s fine if she states that she wishes she could bring herself to do something. It’s another when several times I read something only to find out that nope, that was just in her mind. It’s not even that she wishes she was more sensible or anything. It’s just senseless alternatives that are completely ludicrous. Thankfully that aspect subsides after the first couple of chapters, so that the writing itself no longer is in the way. After that, the writing is fairly standard, in that it conveys the story and Rachel’s voice. It does get funny when Rachel tries to figure out if she’s stoned or not. When that happens, I think Rachel’s voice is captured very well.
Questioning faith is probably one of the main themes. I think that is reflected well in Rachel’s internal struggles, as she considers what it means to be Jewish and lead a Jewish life versus the institutions and people that convey Jewish messages. Despite all that potential, I felt that the execution was lacking. Considering that Rachel is looking back on her life, ten years after all these things happen, there is no apparent development from when she is 15 versus when she is 25. It doesn’t’ even seem necessary to know that she is looking back because how she thinks about her struggles or changes she has undergone aren’t even conveyed in the first place.
Despite the confusion and occasional agitation, I found myself very drawn into the book. I guess seeing how twisted everything was just made me want to know how much worse it could get. Towards the end I also realized that I was very emotionally invested when it came to Randy, the boy Rachel helps in a reading programme, and also when it came to Rachel’s grandmother. Their plights are very real ones that many face, so it is hard to write of the attachment I felt, even if Alexi, for instance, completely turned me off.
Even though I don’t think of Intentions as exceptionally well written, I think it does have a lot to offer in terms of evoking a great range of emotions in readers. Disgust, confusion, sadness, annoyance, excitement, sympathy, hope and what have you are all packed away between those pages.