Book: “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater
Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.
Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.
At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.
They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.
Review: I have been a fan of Stiefvater for a while now. I have distinct memory of picking up “Shiver” like ten years ago before she was a big name in the YA community and very much enjoying it. But what makes her special, in opinion, is the way she has grown as an author in the year’s between. Every book I’ve read by her seems to be better than the last: the plotting more meticulous, the characters more fleshed out, and, most importantly, the lyrical, poetic style of her writing more beautiful and heartbreaking than ever before. All of this remains true for her latest novel “All the Crooked Saints.”
When Pete wanders into the Bicho Raro ranch, he’s only there to work off the price of a box truck that he hopes to use to start a moving business. He’s heard something about miracles, owls, and saints on his way, but not until he arrives does he fully understand. Now, surrounded by pilgrims whose miracles were not what they expected, Pete finds himself becoming entranced by the entire Soria family, but particularly the “emotionless” Beatriz.
While I have framed my summary around Pete, there is no one character who serves as a central point for the story, truly. Perhaps the Soria family as a whole? Throughout what is really a very small book, I found myself sinking down deeply into this strange family, their history, and the beautiful imagery and philosophy behind what constitutes a miracle. We learn bits about every one of the Soria family, their hopes, their fears, what has them, like the pilgrims around them, seemingly stuck with their first miracle, unsure how to move forward.
Stiefvater’s creativity is boundless. The entire concept is beautiful and terrifying, terrifyingly beautiful, just like the stark desert in which the story takes place. The miracles that the pilgrims experience are surprising and new: twin sisters caught in a tangle of snakes, a man who is growing moss, a woman covered in butterflies whose own personal cloud dumps rain on her head constantly. What makes this all the more special is that we can see how these miracles (lessons) connect to the darkness each of these characters are walking through, but none of them are too on the nose or expected. It would have been very easy for this idea to slip into the trite.
Beyond this, the characters are all gloriously complicated, damaged, and lovely. It’s a true testament of skill to not only work in a complicated magic system, fill the pages with beautiful prose that speaks to complicated philosophies and theologies, as well as create a large cast of characters that all have their own distinct story and appeal, all within such a short page count.
Pete, hard-working, but feeling betrayed by a heart to weak to allow him to serve his country in the military, like his family before him. Beatriz, too comfortable with her own lack of emotions. Joaguin, with dreams of being bigger than his little life on the ranch, feeling the judgement of a family who may deem him frivolous. And Daniel, the current Saint, whose parents died due to their darkness and by breaking the taboo to help the pilgrims who visit them. And while these are our “main” characters, the generation of Sorias before them, too, get their own snips of chapters and histories, loves and heartbreaks.
Throughout this all Stiefvater delves into the meaning of family, questions what makes up love, and explores the courage and fear that comes with recognizing what is dark within ourselves. And, importantly, how necessary this process is, for everyone.
I feel like this review may have been all over the place, but I truly don’t know how to best portray the beauty that was this story. Thinking back on it, I mostly see images: barren, but vivid landscapes of the desert, owls grouped on a porch, strange beings wandering among scattered out-buildings, and a family, gathered closely together, but somehow apart and drifting alone. If you’ve read any of Stiefvater’s work in the past, this will all make more sense to you, knowing her skill and particular style of writing. And if you haven’t, this is an excellent place to start, as a stand-alone book that perfectly illustrates all the gifts Stiefvater has to offer.
Rating 9: Vivid and gorgeously rendered, but challenging readers to look deeper within themselves and wonder “What would my miracle look like?”
“All the Crooked Saints” is fairly new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads.”
Find “All the Crooked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!