Review: All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

all the crooked saints“By relegating the things we fear and don’t understand to religion, and the things we understand and control to science, we rob science of its artistry and religion of its mutability.”

I’m starting with this quote because I really love it and wanted to share.  Maggie Stiefvater has a relationship with the English language that I can only marvel at.  How she is to spin, twirl her words to create her worlds is truly magical and is why I look forward to reading all of her books.  It’s hard to describe her books because they are unique.  I mean, who would think about rich white boys looking for a dead Welsh King with the help of psychics would be be so good? And yet, The Raven Cycle is a gift of a series.  All the Crooked Saints has many of the Stiefvater hallmarks we have grown to love but this time taking us to a new time a place.  The Soria’s grant miracles to all those who seek them but like everything worth having you have work for it.  Cousins Daniel, Beatriz and Joaquin are as close as you can get.  They are the youngest of the Soria clan.  Joaquin, 16 wants to be a DJ and wants more then just being a Soria.  Beatriz, 18 is logical and pragmatic.  Known to others as “the girl without feelings” she is more interested in figuring out puzzles then her families miracles.  Daniel, 19 is the current “Saint of Bicho Raro”.  When pilgrims come to Bicho Raro, Daniel helps them to their first miracle but he has a secret.  When pilgrims come to Bicho Raro they come looking for miracles and rid themselves of their darkness.  Those coming for an easy solution will be disappointed.  The Saint provides the first miracle that makes their darkness into flesh and it manifest in many forms.  It is then up to the pilgrim to figure out what they need to do rid themselves of their darkness and perform the second miracle.  The Soria’s are not allowed to help the pilgrims after the first miracle because if they do it will bring on their own darkness that is far more dark then anything the pilgrims have.  The story begins with the three cousins sitting in their truck listening to their pirated radio show they started.  Joaquin is the host and Beatriz the engineer and Daniel, just a listener.  They are interrupted by new arriving pilgrims, Tony and Pete.  Well Pete isn’t a pilgrim. He is just there to work for the truck that is currently their radio station.  The next day, it’s discovered that Daniel has gone out into the desert because he helped a pilgrim named Marisita, who’s darkness manifested in her walking in a constant rain storm wearing a wedding dress covered in butterflies.  Beatriz and Joaquin try to figure out a way to help Daniel without bringing the darkness on themselves.  The central question to this novel is what are you willing to do for a miracle because really what is more frightening than facing yourself? There is nothing harder then looking at yourself and seeing what is actually there and then doing something to change it.  We all have this idealized versions of ourselves that makes it herd for us to hear the truth.  I’ve been going through this lately.  I was recently up for a promotion at work that I didn’t get. I felt I was ready for it but when I was told it was going to go to someone outside of the company and the reasons why it hurt but also was truthful.  The reasons why I wasn’t promoted were all things about myself that I needed to work on but to have someone else voice them out loud was kind of painful to hear.  I have been grappling with this knowledge for a couple weeks know and what to do with it because in truth I didn’t really want to the job.  I’m looking to change careers but the promotion would have looked better on my resume if I stayed for another year.  Now that I didn’t get it, how do I go about improving myself so the next time there is no doubt then I’m the one for the job.  As for the novel, the Soria’s are all forced to face their own darkness in a way when Daniel leaves because just because they perform the miracles doesn’t mean they don’t need miracles too.  It’s not easy but then again anything truly worth having shouldn’t be easy and the struggles they go through it proof of that.  So readers, implore you to read this book and ask yourself what do you want and what are you most of afraid. I’ll go first. What do I want.  I want to make a difference.  What I am most afraid of. That I have reached as far as I’ll ever go and this is the best I’ll ever achieve.   What about you?

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This Month in Reality: Love and Revolution

So, Russell Brand’s third book is about the state of the world and what we can all do to change it. He does his usual comedy schtick but he also presents the views of public figures, past and present, who are advocating for change. I checked this book out from the library to listen to while I cleaned my apartment and but I found myself often just listening. There were many touching and poignant things in the novel. Brand gets personal and talks about painful breakups and relationships and his history of addiction. He gets global and he talks about alternative energy and failures in many governmental systems world wide. One of the things that he keeps coming back to is small groups of people coming together to take care of themselves and effect change.

To be quite honest, I was very touched by this book. I found that it stuck with me long after I had put it down.

When people have to take to the streets because they are being injured or killed by a police service that is not part of the community and not serving the community the system isn’t working. When congress can spend an entire session not passing bills, not appointing people to positions that need to be filled, not taking care of veterans, and not debating or discussing any issues that affect the lives of the people that they actually represent, the system isn’t working. When we expect students to get a college degree to get a good job but that college degree will set them back thousands and thousands of dollars into debt (and when that degree is no guarantee that a good job will ever be available), the system is broken. When apples are shipped to another continent to be processed and then shipped back to be sold (or fish are caught, frozen, shipped to another continent thawed, scaled and boned, refrozen and shipped back) the system isn’t working.  Or, maybe it is working and it is just a stupid system.

I think we can all agree that at least some of those things sound crazy. I mean, at least the fish and the apple thing. I hope the other things as well.

So, the question is, if the system isn’t working, how do we as people, come together and fix the system or change the system or make the system work? The big question that we all have ask ourselves is what are the things that are important to us? How do we center those important things in our lives and in our policies? How do we create a government that is on the same page as we are?

Brand has some suggestions but three of the things that he keeps coming back to are meditation, people coming together to change something, and love.

These are things that have been on my mind recently. Meditation because I have become increasingly aware of how some sort of meditation practice could benefit me.  People coming together because of all of the movements that are rolling and changing things (#blacklivesmatter, #sayhername, and #lovewins as possible examples).    Love for a possibly bizarre reason. I have about one year left on my PhD and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to do next. All of that thinking about the future has really highlighted what is important to me and it turns out that what’s important to me is a need to be near people I love. One of the things I took from reading this book was that, yes, the world is in an awful state and it can be an awful place. But, it doesn’t have to be. We can work together to make it better. We can be there for each other, we can support each other and we don’t have to take any of this as, “that’s just the way the world works.” Naw. The world works the way we work and if we want to change something, we should.

This book was full of a lot of really quotable things that as a listener I kept coming back to like: “Sometimes you have to realize that the only power you have in a situation is the power to make it worse.” (Or, not.)  I could not have heard this quote a better time.  Sometimes, you just have to be reminded that your only options are to be a dick or to be a compassionate human being.

In a discussion of suffragette Emily Davison who worked the get women the vote in England, Brand pointed out that were former leaders of past revolutions to be magically transported in time to now that they might not be encouraging people to vote but rather to riot. It is important to remember that even leaders of peaceful movements did not countenance peace in all instances and that we need to be very careful not to take their life’s work out of context. (We especially need to be careful not to take their life’s work out of context in order to silence a vocal minority that is looking to be heard or that is looking for justice.)

But, the best part of this book for me was maybe how personal it was. Brand reminds you over and over again that you don’t need a perfect solution now, that you can start where you are, that you can do something small and that you, right now, are enough and that you do not need to change. You are okay. I was a little surprised at first by how affected I was to hear that. But, I think we get messages every day about how inadequate we are and we are so habituated to seeing and hearing them that we don’t even question them. Having a weirdo comedian who has had many hilarious (possibly unintentionally so) hairstyles remind me to begin where I am was oddly comforting. Knowing that this guy, who is probably a total dick, is trying his best for his community, was moving. Listening to Brand talk about his many fuck ups and shortcomings was oddly empowering.

Brand reminds us that, “This is your planet, you can change it if you want to. You can change it by doing loads of drug or having it off with loads of women or going on a murderous rampage with a licensed weapon. Doesn’t it make more sense though to change it by binding together with your fellow man and working to create a society that is fair and just? Of course it does!”

So, if you’re interested in hearing a comedian discuss the work of forward-thinking people and talk about revolution, meditation, and power structures, I highly recommend this book.

I checked the audio for this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.