A serviceable biography introduces readers to the first pope from the Americas.
Beginning with the long wait in Saint Peter’s Square for the white smoke signaling the election of the new pope, the text moves to an exploration of the childhood of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the boy who would become Pope Francis. Facts that bring his story to life (he loved soccer and dancing the tango and has a master’s degree in chemistry) alternate with background details that help readers understand the events that shaped him, including those surrounding his native Argentina’s “dirty war.” Throughout, Watson presents a balanced view of the young Jesuit priest: While the humble man is celebrated for his work with the poor and sick, there are also those who feel he did not do enough to fight the oppressors or aid others. Watson’s portraits of Pope Benedict XVI and the scandals that swirled around him are not as nuanced. And some of her facts about the Catholic Church are incomplete or erroneous; she states the Sistine Chapel is the home to the pope (he lives in the Vatican Palace, not in a church) and that the cardinals are in charge of electing the new pope (they also advise the current pope).
For good or for bad, Pope Francis’ life and papacy cannot be separated from the tarnish on today’s Catholic Church, and readers may end up with more questions than answers, though their respect for Pope Francis should grow. (Biography. 9-14)