All the Crooked Saints is the first Maggie Stiefvater book that I've read, and let me say, I could not have chosen a better book to introduce myself to her body of work. Magical realism, owls, black roses, Elvis, trucks that are recovered ecosystems, coyote-headed priests, the incomprehensibility of love and radio waves and miracles—it doesn’t sound like all of these seemingly unrelated things could work together, but they all live in this book, and I didn’t once question it.
I’m someone who is enraptured by language and imagery, by metaphors, by the music of the sentence. This book glitters. It pulses. The landscape sings. The setting is a character itself, inhabited by people who try and fail and try again to grow into their best selves.
The first sentence pulled me in immediately: “You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.”
All the Crooked Saints centers on the Soria family, who are known for their ability to perform miracles on people who are lost and despairing. They live in a remote little town—if it can even be called a town—called Bicho Raro, in Colorado, where pilgrims flock to have miracles performed on them.
Three Soria cousins are the protagonists of the story: 18 year old Beatriz Soria, known as the girl without feelings, sixteen year old Juaquin Soria, aspiring radio DJ who goes by Diablo Diablo on the air, and nineteen year old Daniel Soria, the current Saint and performer of miracles at Bicho Raro.
Add to the mix a collection of pilgrims who have all been magically transformed in one way or another to outwardly grapple with their inner darkness, a boy who comes to Bicho Raro not for a miracle, but a car, and about a half dozen other Sorias who are flawed and funny and lovable, and you’ve got a wonderful cast of characters. There isn’t one character who doesn’t feel distinct and important to the story.
The beginning may feel a little slow as the characters are introduced and the story settles into place, but I found the writing style so engaging that I didn’t mind the story taking its time to unfold. I was sold within the first few pages. If you’re someone who needs more action, I promise it’s not a long wait—by the time miracles start showing up, the story gains momentum. I couldn’t put the book down once it hit the climax.
Stiefvater writes from an omniscient third person point of view, moving organically through the thoughts of multiple characters (the Coloradan high desert included) in any given scene. This technique is effective because it reveals so much about the characters in what they don’t say to each other, even when the reader knows what they’re thinking. It creates tension—I often found myself wanting to give characters a nice long chat about using your words, for goodness’ sake! That being said, I never became too frustrated—rather, I was eager to see how these conflicts would play out.
This is a story I needed to read, and it’s a story I’m sure I’ll read again and again. This book is about the courage it takes to confront your fears, your inner weakness, your darkness, and finding the strength to change. It’s about letting others in. It’s the story we all live, every day, and that’s the beauty of this book.
I hugged my copy of All the Crooked Saints for a good five minutes after reading the last sentence. Even if you’re not a big fan of YA or magical realism, I’d still recommend giving this book a try. If there’s anyone who can convince you to fall a little bit in love with magic, it’s Maggie Stiefvater.
I’ll end on a favorite line from this book (and really, I could flip to any page and find a sentence that I’m at least a little bit in love with):
“Humans are as drawn to hope as owls are to miracles. It only takes the suggestion of it to stir them up, and the eagerness lingers for a while even when all traces of it are gone.”
All the Crooked Saints was published in 2017 by Scholastic Press, and is $18.99 in hardcover.
What are some of your favorite YA books from 2017? Do you have any favorite books that feature magical realism or personified settings?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.