The Owls Are Not What They Seem

BOOK REPORT for All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover Story: La Vie En Rose

BFF Charm: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Talky Talk: Slow Burn

Bonus Factors: Pirate Radio, Miracles, Standalone

Relationship Status: #blessed

 

Cover Story: La Vie En Rose

As far as the colors go, this is striking—the red, gold, and turquoise evoke the desert where the story takes place—but otherwise, I don’t particularly like it. It looks like a compromise between wanting to appeal to adults, but not knowing how to encapsulate the elements of the story in a single cover. I wish they had gone more in the direction of her Creepy Owl Bookplate (because once you notice that one has human eyes, you will never sleep again).

The Deal:

Bicho Raro is nestled in the unforgiving Colorado desert, a place of miracles performed by the current saint of the Soria family. Pilgrims come seeking miracles, and they stay until their plights are resolved. The Sorias house them, but the laws of the miracle forbid them from helping or interfering with the pilgrims in any way.

When Daniel, the current Soria saint, falls in love with a pilgrim and brings the darkness of a half-completed miracle upon himself, the Sorias are thrown into chaos. His cool-headed cousin Beatriz is bound to be the next saint, but she doesn’t want it; she’d rather find Daniel and return him to his rightful position while she applies the scientific method to observing magic and miracles. The third cousin, Joaquin, just wants to blast his pirate radio station from the back of a truck, which is a miracle in and of itself. But nothing is absolute. Times are a-changin’, and the Sorias might be subject to some miracles of their own.

BFF Charm: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour

The cousins are a mixed bag of a prickly, tightly-knit clan, while the pilgrims range from sad to angry and everything in between. They’re all fascinating and strangely charming, but by the nature of the town, they’ve got a lot to work on within themselves. The only non-Soria, non-pilgrim person is Pete, who is my pick for BFF/boyfriend: his steadfast cheer and hard-working nature make him the sort of reliable and kind person that you’d want as a real friend (but perhaps not a main character).

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Love fuels this book: familial love, romantic love, lost love, self love. (Not that kind, gutter mind.) It’s not a kissing book in the way that you might expect from other Stiefvater novels; the romantic element is not as important as learning to love oneself. There are, however, some romances and kisses to be had, if you want them.

Talky Talk: Slow Burn

Even a bad book (which this is not) by Maggie Stiefvater is going to be in a class of its own: her writing is just that good. It’s clear that she’s in love with the alien desert landscape and legends, which are beautifully rendered in her precise-but-lush artist’s way.

While the first third of the book felt meandering and slow, and each new character was introduced with an interesting-but-repetitive literary device (“Here was a thing [they] wanted:/Here was a thing [they] feared:”), the second two-thirds picked up steam and built upon the first. Once the major players and plots were established, it was easier to enjoy the book for her vivid prose and the story itself.

I can’t speak as to whether she accurately represented Latinx culture or if this story was “hers” to tell, given that I’m not Latinx, either. What I can say is that, as usual, every character felt fully-formed and multi-dimensional, and the setting was relayed with what seemed to be great care. I defer judgment on that to those who are from Latinx cultures.

Bonus Factor: Pirate Radio

Joaquin’s pirate radio station is pure 1960s splendor: Del Shannon! Patsy Cline! Elvis! Stiefvater does such a lovely job of describing the small miracle of hearing someone else’s voice through invisible airwaves. There’s a line where one character is described as being comforted that even though he couldn’t hear a clear station, there was still static—this is something I miss in the digital age. I used to fall asleep to the oldies station on my FM radio, and in my maudlin teenager days (okay, and maudlin adult days too) it struck me how strange it was that we can listen to the voices of long-dead singers in the dark of night. There is something eerie and comforting about it, and I loved the visual of the cousins broadcasting from the back of a truck in an unforgiving desert.

Bonus Factor: Miracles

The homage to Catholicism—which is full of fascinating legends itself—is unlike anything I’ve read in YA before. The miracles themselves build on the familiar YA theme of learning to face darkness and love oneself, but in typical Stiefvater style, they go above and beyond the expected.

Bonus Factor: Standalone

After the excruciating (but well-worth-it) wait for all four Raven Cycle books, let’s hear it for a standalone!

Relationship Status: #blessed

Book, you captured my attention with your promise of saints and miracles, and you won my heart with an alien landscape full of owls and airwaves. Sometimes a story well-told is a little miracle in and of itself.

All the Crooked Saints is available now.

Jennie lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.

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