Lauren Chambers: Stiefvater's latest work doesn't disappoint

Lauren Chambers: Stiefvater's latest work doesn't disappoint

By LAUREN CHAMBERS

What I feared: that the latest Maggie Stiefvater title wouldn't be as magical and surreal as The Raven Cycle series.

What I wanted: to be completely transported by Stiefvater's signature use of lyrical language and to believe in the power of miracles.

I had nothing to fear. The New York Times bestselling author is back with her latest book, "All the Crooked Saints."

Set in 1960s Colorado, the Soria family's calling has always been miracles. They are all capable of manifesting the darkness in others so it can be confronted and conquered.

Each generation, one member of the family becomes the Saint. Broken, lost and desperate pilgrims journey hundreds of miles seeking the Saint's miracle.

The Saint performs the first miracle to give the pilgrim's fears or darkness shape. Each pilgrim's manifestation is distinct. One pilgrim is covered in moss, one is constantly rained on, and others are physically transformed.

But it's up to the individual pilgrim to exorcise his or her own darkness in a second miracle and be restored. None of the Sorias are allowed to interfere or help. If a Soria violates this taboo, his or her own darkness manifests, and a Soria's darkness is dangerous.

Daniel is the current Saint. His cousins Beatriz and Joaquin are his closest friends. Together the three run a pirate radio station, with Joaquin as DJ and Beatriz as technician.

The three are close, but Daniel has started to question the taboo against helping pilgrims. He's silently watched them struggle, and one pilgrim in particular has him questioning everything he's been taught. When Daniel gives into his desire to help and pays for it, Beatriz refuses to give up on Daniel, even if it means risking letting her own darkness loose.

Stiefvater's character-driven foray into magical realism builds slowly as Beatriz explores the connection between saints and pilgrims, fear and desire, and healing and forgiveness.

It's an intimate portrayal of a family that feels driven to help others but struggles to help itself. Coupled with Stiefvater's lush poetic prose, it's a surreal examination of what holds us back, what can motivate us to move forward and why we can't always do it alone.

Though not Mexican-American, Stiefvater used two sensitivity readers to evaluate her portrayal of Latino characters and culture. And the story draws heavily on Latin American culture and myths with untranslated Mexican Spanish woven throughout.

If you have questions about her writing process or her books, you can ask the author herself when she speaks at The Urbana Free Library from 7 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 15. There will be a Q&A and a book signing following her talk.

Lauren Chambers is an adult and youth-services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. As a self-identified 'geek,' she enjoys reading science-fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.

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