The key positive statement I can make in the aftermath of reading Deborah Heiligman’s “Intentions” is that it’s a very compulsive, quick read. I stayed up in the wee hours of the morning finishing it. It’s very easy to get through if you’re engaged in the storyline for what it offers. The story centers around a trainwreck of events in the life of a Jewish teen named Rachel, who ends up questioning everything around her. She falls into her own missteps after several hard hits that change her perspective on more than just the people in her faith circles, but also her family, friends, and peers.
The problem that I saw in retrospect isn’t so much that the collective cast has their fair share of flaws, but rather the whole narrative seems to be rather streamlined for drama, not giving much time for development or identification. Rachel herself is an insufferable protagonist, particularly in the beginning when she’s self-absorbed and has a flighty attention span to things, it seems. The problems in her life, however, are rather numerous and grow as the story moves forward (sometimes self-inflicted). Her parents are constantly fighting and she fears they may end up divorcing. Her former best friend is no longer speaking to her, and even actively shunning Rachel every chance she gets. Rachel learns that her Rabbi has affairs with many women, including one that strikes close to home. Rachel finds herself falling in love with a childhood best friend, but then has a momentary fling with another boy. Her grandmother is sick and making her whole family’s nerves stand on end.
So, admittedly, Rachel has a lot on her plate. On one hand, it’s hard not to feel for her when some of the events take their toll and overwhelm her. But I can’t help but notice just how disconnected it feels in the overall narrative. The characters aren’t all that particularly dimensional. I felt like I could see glimpses into each of the surrounding characters (aside from Rachel), and while one can tell there are some heavy issues in the matter of things, there’s not a lot of whys to the hows. I couldn’t just take it on the matter of what the overarching novel is trying to say – that no one is as perfect as they seem and at some point, people have to move on and find their own path to life. I got the idea, but I don’t think it really hit me as hard because there wasn’t a lot of showing of the “whys,” coping, and consequence. I wish I could’ve connected better with Rachel and the characters in the overarching novel. The only one I was able to connect to in some way was Jake, but even the focus on him was spotty and underdeveloped.
Overall, I think it’s an okay story, quick read and it will engage with the way that its written as well as the successive turns of conflict that the character faces, but I don’t know if it’s the kind of novel that grips you and doesn’t let go. For me, if it had just a bit more heart – even with its flawed characters, I probably would’ve liked it more.
Overall score: 2/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House/Knopf BFYR.