All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. Narrated by Thom Rivera. Scholastic, 2017.
Beatriz, Joaquin and Daniel Soria are cousins living in Bicho Raro, Colorado, in 1962. The Sorias have developed a reputation over the past century as miracle workers, following the family from Mexico to Colorado. Pilgrims come from all over, and Daniel, the current Saint, helps create a miracle that will manifest their inner darkness in outward, physical form. This should help the pilgrims realize what their problems are enough to address them, so that the first miracle will be followed by a second. But lately, the second miracle hasn’t been occurring, so that pilgrims – all with odd manifestations about them – stay, and stay, and stay. A woman in a wedding dress covered with real butterflies, with a constant shower of rain falling around her; arguing twins bound together by snakes; a priest with the head of a coyote.
Joaquin and Beatriz, though, stay away from the miracle business as much as possible. They run an illicit radio station from a van in the desert late at night, Joaquin working under the DJ name Diablo Diablo, and Beatriz managing the mechanics of both the broadcast system and the formerly broken down van.
Change comes in the form of Pete Wyatt, a boy just a bit older than Beatriz, who comes to Bicho Raro not for a miracle (though he does have a hole in his heart), but for a chance to work and earn the van his aunt didn’t know Beatriz had fixed up to use. Beatriz has always considered herself to be a girl with no feelings, but even though she finds machines easier to relate to than people, Pete starts growing on her. (Though the word isn’t used, and wouldn’t have been at the time, Beatriz feels like she’s on the spectrum, which is why I included this book on my 2018 Diversity Reading Challenge. I’ve read enough books by Latinix authors so far this year that I didn’t include it on my list there, though obviously most of the characters here are Latinix.) Daniel, too, is having an increasingly difficult time with his role as the saint.
This is a book that feels like magical realism, with things that ought to be symbolic given physical form and weighty meaning. People are introduced with double sentences: “Here is a thing s/he hoped for: Here is a thing s/he feared.” It’s also a story of teens trying to work out the mistakes of older generations, of friendship, and – despite the heavy symbolism – humor.
I listened to this on audio from hoopla. Thom Rivera narrates with a pronounced Spanish accent, slowly enough to be easily understandable. The teens, though, speak with American accents, and Pete, from further east, with a bit of southern country twang. I always enjoy when the books bring the sound of the characters that much closer to reality.
This book feels like it shouldn’t work. And yet, Stiefvater pulls it all together into something hard to put down, as I listened on, anxious for all the characters to find their way through their difficulties to their own miracles, mystical or not.