All the Crooked Saints
By: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
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.
I was deeply excited for this book when I first heard about it, but became somewhat less so with early reviews–a few people mentioned that they felt it was somewhat stereotypical, and less well handled than it could have been. But I finally had time recently to pick it up and read it. I was surprised by how much I liked it, honestly–it’s a charming, weird romp that’s also just a very good story.
The time is the early sixties and the place is Bicho Raro, a nowhere place in Colorado that is home to the Soria family. They specialize in miracles–or at least, getting a miracle started for you. Finishing it, facing the parts of yourself that you don’t want to face, is up to you. As such, their little town is filled with pilgrims who were given miracles, but are unable or unwilling to finish them. It’s an uneasy alliance, that becomes more uneasy when a pilgrim and a hitchhiker wander into town–one looking for a miracle, the other for some sense of purpose.
It’s hard to say whether there’s truly a main character or not. Pete, the hitchhiker, is certainly important to the story. Similarly, the young generation of Sorias plays a massive part. Beatriz, the quiet analytical one, is tasked with figuring things out after the current saint Daniel finds himself in need of a miracle. She’s helped by Joaquin, her other cousin, who wants to become a radio personality. But they’re working within the confines of established rules and prejudices by the older generation of Sorias, and trying to reach out to the pilgrims, all of whom have a story.
I think that this is a book that only Maggie Stiefvater could have written. It’s a bit meandering at times, driven by a clear event and a clear need, but the plot happens in fits and starts, flashbacks and sudden understandings. It’s a story about a truck, and an illegal radio, and a boy with a hole in his heart, and devastating love, and being true to yourself. It’s about miracles, and second chances, and it feels like the desert feels–harsh, lonely, almost wistful, but with unexpected joys.
I’m just going to wax eloquent about my favorite part of this story, which is the idea that only part of the miracle can be given to you–the rest you have to find for yourself. I grew up Catholic, and although I enjoyed the idea of confession, I was always suspicious of the idea that a priest could lay a hand on you and say some words, and like that, your sins would be wiped away. But the idea of confession is more of that of a therapist–the opportunity to talk to someone about what you’re ashamed of, what you’re scared of, what you fear, and have them tell you it’s all OK. What I enjoyed about this book is exactly that–the concept that everyone needs a miracle, but they have to face their darkness in order to finally find the light. (Also, in case I’m now worrying anyone, this book is not terribly Catholic. There’s even a line about how the Church didn’t like the Sorias much because they do weird magic stuff).
This isn’t a book I can neatly explain, or summarize (you’ve probably gathered that by the rambling quality of this review). But it is a delightful book to read, particularly if you feel that you’d appreciate a miracle yourself.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.