Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Teen/YA Review: All the Crooked Saints

One of my reading paradoxes is that I don't typically like reading fantasy...but I always end up enjoying Maggie Stiefvater's novels, which are all various types and degrees of fantasy. She has a way of writing characters and stories that completely pull me in, in spite of my initial hesitation. I especially loved her two series, The Wolves of Mercy Falls (starting with Shiver), which completely took me by surprise and I expected to hate, and The Raven Cycle (beginning with The Raven Boys), which both my son and I loved. I even enjoyed The Scorpio Races, even though it was a bit violent for my taste. So, when I heard about Stiefvater's latest YA novel, All the Crooked Saints, it didn't sound like something I'd like, but I had learned my lesson and knew to give it a try. Though this novel was the most fantastical - and more than a little strange - of all of them, I still got immersed in the story and invested in the characters and ended up enjoying this very unusual bit of fiction.

Most of the novel takes place in the 1960's, though there are flashbacks to earlier times, on an isolated ranch called Bicho Raro in the deserts of Colorado. This is where the Soria family lives...and performs miracles for visiting pilgrims. The catch is that the miracles have side effects - each person's inner darkness somehow manifesting - that are often so debilitating that the pilgrims have to live on the ranch until they figure out how to overcome the darkness. The family has a strict rule that family members can not interact with the pilgrims living on the ranch in case their darkness might spread, so there is an odd little community living on its own there whose members have some bizarre side effects, like the girl who has her own constant rainstorm following her around or the man who grows to an enormous height or the priest with the head of a coyote. The younger generation of Sorias includes cousins Daniel, considered the Saint of Bicho Raro; Beatriz, the girl who is said to have no feelings but is a mechanical genius; and Joaquin, who plays DJ Diablo Diablo in the middle of the night on the pirate radio station the cousins run out of an old truck. Into this strange mix comes Pete, a young man from Oklahoma who has come to the ranch to buy the very truck the cousins broadcast from, since their parents are unaware that Beatriz got it running again.

In case you can't tell from that brief description, this is a very weird bit of storytelling, filled with characters who have magical powers and others whose inner darkness has manifested in bizarre external ways. I listened to it on audio and was captivated by the beautiful singsong voice of narrator Thom Rivera, though it took me a bit longer to be engaged by the story itself. As I said, I'm not a big fan of fantasy. But Stiefvater's writing eventually won me over, as it always does. It especially shines in this unusual novel, with metaphors that make you stop in your tracks, and a humorous way of describing things (that's the downside of audio - I wasn't able to mark any quotes to share with you). Despite my initial doubts, this strange and surreal novel grew on me, as did its unusual characters. While this wasn't my favorite of Stiefvater's novels, I ended up enjoying it and appreciating its underlying messages about happiness and inner darkness. If you like fantasy and fables generally or are a fan of Stiefvater's specifically, then you will likely enjoy the magical story Bicho Raro and its miracles.

320 pages, Scholastic

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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Listen to a brief audio sample here, to hear the narrator's melodic voice, or to download the audio book from Audible.

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  1. I loved this book full of magical realism. By embracing this genre I was able to see the symbolism and the beauty for what it was and what I could learn from it. The book itself got quite a bit of criticism because Stiefvater isn't Latina. But I say "bah" I think she did a remarkable thing here.

    1. That's such a silly criticism! She's honoring the Mexican-American culture - who cares if it's not her own culture? That would be so limiting, if fiction authors could only write about their own personal backgrounds & experience. I think she did a remarkable job, too :)

  2. I am not a huge fantasy reader so haven't read any of her books though they flew off the shelves when I was a school librarian.

    1. I don't normally like fantasy, either, but she's such a good writer! If you do decide to try one, I recommend The Raven Boys as a start.