A sheltered New England teen exploited for her gift decides she wants to live a normal life—and in the process discovers the consequences.
Eighteen-year-old Portuguese-American Marlena is known as Marlena the Saint because of her unique ability to heal people through her touch. Her controlling mother determines what behaviors and clothing will maintain her holy reputation, but Marlena’s desire to know the world grows stronger than her fear of disappointing her mother, especially once she finds out that she is charging money for the healings. With help from a few allies, including her gay friend Helen, Marlena sets out to experience the forbidden: partying, wearing a bikini, having a cellphone. She falls in love and, through physical intimacy, learns comfort with the body she was taught to associate with shame. But her joy comes to a halt when she discovers that someone she loves is sick. Marlena tries to do penance so that the angry, punishing God she was taught to believe in will restore her gift. Marlena’s straightforward present-tense narration is disorienting at first but becomes hypnotic after a few chapters. Some readers will enjoy exploring large questions about God, faith, and the meaning of life alongside the confused, questioning protagonist. Some may bristle at the mixture of the profane and the sacred. Whether empathizing with her or annoyed with her overdone rebellion, readers will be left reflecting.
Intense. (Fiction. 16-18)