All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Can I give it six stars? Eight? I need more stars.
A few weeks ago I was driving across the Colorado desert with my 18yo and she suddenly drops into a reminiscent haze in the midst of the red rocks and tumbleweed. It is possible we were in Wyoming. Or Idaho. It is even possible that we were already in Oregon and its interminable high desert. It is all a bit dusty.
She tells me that really, I should go to her bookshelf when I get home and pull out All the Crooked Saints. There she is, driving along at 85 mph, trying to tell me all about it, and she keeps stuttering, keeps getting hung up. Eventually she settles on ‘It’s just amazing. So warm. And soft. So tender.’
And this from the kid who sits–literally sits–on any book I inquire about, just to prevent me from seeing the cover. For well over a decade we’ve done this dance, so when she shares a book with me, I listen. When I’m driving with her across the country to leave her there all alone–like an adult–I listen even harder.
And so, dutifully, upon landing back home, I dug through her library and found it. It took me a week and a half to read it, but only because it was immediately apparent that I didn’t want to stop. I stretched. I savored. And today I gave up the fight and finished it.
So, first of all, point of context: The reason our four-trillion-mile drive provoked her to share is that All the Crooked Saints is set firmly in the middle of the Colorado high desert, and for the most part, this trip was her first experience in a climate such as this.
Also I choose to believe that she was having such a good time with her old mom that it naturally reminded her of her favorite author.
So, the book. I’m afraid I actually don’t have any better words than the kid had. Warm. Tender. Soft. Beyond belief and still completely real and true. A fairy tale of the high desert.
There’s a children’s book we once pulled from a Cheerios box. No Dogs Allowed by Sonia Manzano. Most of us remember her as the beloved Maria from Sesame Street. It had a certain fairy-tale quality about it, while being firmly rooted in the firm and hardy. Our Maria did an amazing thing with her words, as she wove the description into the story and conveyed life in such a complete and idyllic way. I always attributed it to her Hispanic roots. Right or wrong, she was writing about a Hispanic family, and I assumed at the time that her voice came from that place. I would include an excerpt, but the illustrator, Jon J Muth, completed the tapestry, and I just don’t know if words alone will do the trick. Besides, I’m sure your local library has it, and every adult should check out at least three children’s books per year from their local library.
Reading Stiefvater, I was continually taken back to that tiny little paperback. She did the same thing, weaving just enough tall-tale into her work to bring another level of beauty. Ironically, All the Crooked Saints is also about a Hispanic family. It makes me wonder. Is this ‘thing’ that so draws me in a product of that culture, a culture I’m shamefully unaware of? Probably.
I was also thinking a lot about Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon. It’s been a few years since I read that one, but there was a similar feel. That fantasy that isn’t completely fantasy. The seamless melding of reality and fantasy, done well enough that you wonder where you are on the continuum at any given time.
But mostly, Maggie Stiefvater’s creation stands completely on its own two feet as a beautiful tale, masterfully written. I don’t think she’s got Hispanic roots herself, but she clearly immersed herself in research. And I think that immersion not only colored her portrayal of the Soria family, but her very writing. It is one of those books that could, if you let it, set you to despair of ever really writing yourself. If it is being done that well already, then what the heck is the point of even trying? Hopeless.
Or. Maybe inspirational. That someone could write like that. There is hope.
So, the final verdict? It is soft. It is warm. It is so, so tender. And it would be a shame not to read it.
If you need me, I’ll be pining for another good book,