Annunciation of Francesca Dunn

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A remarkable debut novel that 'dares us to imagine mystery in our lives, in our time—book that sends us away refreshed, with the potential to see the sacramental in the everyday' – Boston Globe

Told from the viewpoints of four unforgettable characters, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn is the story of an ordinary girl who is believed to be a modern–day Holy Virgin. At the heart of the story is Francesca: a shy and moody teenager hungry for her absent father's love, she is ...

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Overview

A remarkable debut novel that 'dares us to imagine mystery in our lives, in our time—book that sends us away refreshed, with the potential to see the sacramental in the everyday' – Boston Globe

Told from the viewpoints of four unforgettable characters, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn is the story of an ordinary girl who is believed to be a modern–day Holy Virgin. At the heart of the story is Francesca: a shy and moody teenager hungry for her absent father's love, she is frightened and intoxicated by her sudden elevation to the rank of divine. Chester is a visionary homeless man who first 'discovers' Francesca and makes himself her protector. Anne is Francesca's no–nonsense mother, whose religion is Darwin and biology. Sid is Francesca's troubled friend, who keeps a few secrets of her own.

Tender and tragic, their intersecting stories probe the need to believe, and the relationship between divinity and madness. Beautifully crafted, here is a compelling first novel that heralds the arrival of a powerful new talent.

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Editorial Reviews

People4 stars
“Provocative and suspenseful.”
Donna Gershten
“Janis Hallowell writes with lucid grace...”
4 stars - People
"Provocative and suspenseful."
People–4 stars
“Provocative and suspenseful.”
Booklist
“An intriguing and memorable look at what might happen if a modern-day miracle did occur.”
Rocky Mountain News
“THE ANNUNCIATION OF FRANCESCA DUNN asks poignant emotional questions, striving to define reality and redemption in a troubled world.”
Boulder Daily Camera
“Skillfull ... delightful ...charming .... the characters are quirky, troubled, and appealing, and we’d be willing to follow them just about anywhere.”
BookPage
“Beautifully written and brimming with strong, appealingly eccentric characters...raises intriguing questions about the nature of contemporary faith and religion.”
Children's Literature
It is the homeless man, Chester, who has a vision of the Holy Mother and "sees" that she is Francesca, the troubled and maybe pregnant teen who serves meals to the homeless in a local cafe. At the cafe, Francesca "heals" two of the regulars. Or at least they believe they are healed. "A guy named Briggs said his heart pain went away. And Cristos has an ear infection that stopped." As the news of Francesca and her miraculous powers spreads, an ever-growing and increasingly fanatical following of weirdos (her mother's words) wait outside her home. At first she avoids her followers, but begins to feel their pain and despair and finally comes to believe that she is the miraculous being that they want her to be. Francesca's story is told by four different characters: Chester; Sida, the best friend who takes advantage of Francesca's fame to earn a bit of money; Francesca's mother, Anne; and Francesca herself. The book contains references to a teenage sexual encounter, a possible pregnancy, abortion, the shooting of a doctor whom Francesca and her mother have consulted, and self mutilation (Sida's deliberate and repeated cutting of herself.). A thought provoking tale that will engender lively—if not heated—discussion. 2004, Morrow/HarperCollins, Ages 16 up.
—Anita Barnes Lowen
VOYA
Until the homeless community embraces her as a modern-day Blessed Virgin, fourteen-year-old Francesca is more concerned about her eating disorder, inability to master the cello, and parental indifference than about healing the sick. As the clamoring crowd gathers, hoping for a miracle, Francesca actually begins to believe that she might be chosen to carry the new savior and that she might have the power to cure by touch. Four characters tell her story from quite different viewpoints. Chester, a street person who smells fear and disease in others, is the first to recognize Francesca's gift and appoints himself as her protector. Anne, Francesca's mother, is a scientist who underestimates the yearning for people to find something to believe and the power of crowd psychology. Sid, Francesca's best friend who is jealous of the sudden fame, decides to cash in by selling belongings stolen from Francesca. And Francesca herself writes in the third person of circumstances beyond her control and of the slight possibility that she could be destined for greatness. At first skeptical of adoration, she convinces herself that she is pregnant and able to help the needy by her words and touch. Is it a modern-day miracle? Or is everyone blinded by hype and media coverage? As the smoothly written, engaging narrative moves toward its conclusion driven by the distinctive voices of the characters, the reader sees the events unfold from several perspectives. With the current popularity of television series such as Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls, this title will be an appealing, natural tie-in for older teens interested in the possibilities of miracles or mental confusion. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better thanmost, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2004, HarperCollins, 310p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Judy Sasges
Library Journal
This quirky debut novel translates perfectly to audio, aided by four narrators (Tyler Bunch, Kristin Kilian, Beth MacDonald, and Mia Pitasi) whose voices distinctly convey what listeners expect these characters to sound like. Not an easy job when there are numerous speakers, including a homeless man, a teenager who delights in cutting herself, an ashram-seeking young mother, and a Jesuit priest sent by the church to confirm miracles. While other characters speak in the first person, Hallowell wisely keeps Francesca's voice in the third person, creating a distance between this lonely, troubled teenager and the listener an apt parallel to her reluctance to expose herself or accept what others see as her supernatural powers. Particularly poignant is the miniscule line that develops between madness and sanity, prismatically viewed in one character after another. While there is much humor here, absolutely nothing is superficial. Though the final chapter seems tacked-on, too neatly tying up loose ends, the book as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable. Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ambitious first novel examines the power of faith-and its dangers. Chester, a former English Lit Ph.D. with mental problems, is a homeless person in a town that's probably Boulder. One morning, he has a vision that Francesca, a 14-year-old girl who helps serve the homeless free meals at her neighbor Ronnie's cafe, is the Holy Virgin. Chester decides that he is to be her protector. Francesca, beautiful but going through a troubled patch of adolescence since her parents' divorce, is in fact afraid she might be pregnant, although the sexual encounter she had remains ambiguous. After an incident at the cafe, word spreads among the homeless that Francesca has holy healing powers. Her distracted mother Anne, a paleobotanist with no use for the leap of faith required for religious belief, conveniently leaves town for a dig while Francesca, staying with Ronnie, becomes increasingly known as a miracle worker. By the time Anne returns, the cult around Francesca has become a media event, inflamed by Ronnie's sister Rae, a professional seeker (we all know the type), and Francesca's friend Sid, who is secretly selling Francesca-relics. Anne is slow to realize that Francesca has in fact begun to believe in her own powers, to enjoy the role of Virgin thrust upon her, and to act as a pretty credible miracle worker. People believe they are changed after contact with her. By setting up the possibility of miracles occurring while also leaving a trail of rational explanation, Hallowell challenges the reader to think in new ways about how belief evolves and how it affects actions. In the end, Francesca is not pregnant and, at a crucial moment, is unable to heal. But the question lingers whether her temporarydivinity was real to those who believed. Though her story and characters are both sometimes labored and her writing stilted, there's a lot to admire in the complexity of the issues Hallowell raises-and in her lack of easy answers. Agent: Kathleen Anderson/Anderson Grinberg
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060559205
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Janis Hallowell, author of The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn, is a MacDowell Fellow, and her short fiction has been published in Ploughshares. She lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn
A Novel

Chapter One

Chester

People who live in houses never get it, but street people know: Fall begins on the fifteenth of August, at the exact moment when summer's at its peak. It happens like breath, the exhale being the seed of the inhale. There's the first yellow leaf. A tiredness comes over the green. The smell of snow rolls down from the mountain, and your bones remember the cold that's coming. It was that night, the night summer slipped into fall, that she became the Virgin. Before, she was just a girl who worked at Ronnie's Café on weekends, handing out free food after hours. There had never been anything about her to suggest divinity. No trace of roses lingered around her; there was no holy brightness. But all of that changed with the season.

That night, as always, I waited until dark to look for a place to sleep. There was a spot in the bushes by the river that I often used, and after I smoothed the dirt with my hand, I gingerly pulled my sleeping bag from its sack, trying to keep the goose down from leaking out of the many small rips in the fabric. I aligned the bag north to south because I can't sleep crosswise to the earth currents, and then I checked to make sure it wasn't visible from the road. You see, when the season changes, it brings the college boys back to town. They come, all suburbs and sex, looking to show their frat-boy friends how to kick bums trapped in sleeping bags. They never got me, though. I knew their ways from teaching them, long ago. And from being one of them before that.

I sat and ate my supper, a splendid ripe tomato pinched from a backyardgarden. With the tip of my knife, I saluted my unknowing benefactors. They of the white picket fence and cozy kitchen. When the tomato was gone, I put away my knife, wiped the juice out of my beard, and turned up the collar on my coat. I didn't take off my boots. As much as I hated the dirt going into my bag, boots tend to disappear if they're not on you, and boots can make the difference between staying alive and not.

I had settled in, hoping for sleep, when there was a commotion above the water. I opened my eyes, and she was there. She was a vision, a visitation, a sighting, a hallucination. All words for the same thing: the moment that imprinted itself on all the remaining moments of my life.

She hovered over the creek, swirled in ambrosial light. The water coursed around her feet, but her dress stayed dry. She held the baby close. Her mouth moved, but I couldn't hear the words, so I made my way to the edge of the water. She was the girl from Ronnie's, only with eyes as deep as the universe and wrapped in a cloak of glory. The smell of roses, the velvety ache of them, lured me in. She smiled at me and said, "Yours will be a magnificent role in the coming of my son."

I'm no newcomer to strangeness. I've had it all my life. It's my curse and my blessing that I can smell things other people can't. I can pick up the rotten sweetness of infection from across the street. Anger coming off a person is an acrid, mustardy thing, not unlike the odor of ants, and lying has a cloying, soapy smell that makes my mouth pleat. In the past, when social workers and do-gooders discovered my gift, they sent me to shrinks who gave me the latest antipsychotic. I tried to take them, but the drugs always made me go dead inside. Each time I ended up deciding to carry on intact, smells and all, rather than live in that pharmaceutical twilight.

I had been smelling things forever, but I had never had a vision before. And this was the real deal, complete with singing angels and rapturous awe. I knew instantly who she was. I hadn't been to church since I was a little boy, but I knew. I recognized her by the roses and by the blue of her robe. And before I realized what was happening, she reached between my ribs and took my heart in her hand. It settled there like a tame rat, trembling at her touch.

I don't know how long she was with me, but when I came back to myself, I was waist deep in the water and she was gone. And I knew that this was what I was supposed to do: find her in the flesh and serve her.

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn
A Novel
. Copyright © by Janis Hallowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn
A Novel

Chapter One

Chester

People who live in houses never get it, but street people know: Fall begins on the fifteenth of August, at the exact moment when summer's at its peak. It happens like breath, the exhale being the seed of the inhale. There's the first yellow leaf. A tiredness comes over the green. The smell of snow rolls down from the mountain, and your bones remember the cold that's coming. It was that night, the night summer slipped into fall, that she became the Virgin. Before, she was just a girl who worked at Ronnie's Café on weekends, handing out free food after hours. There had never been anything about her to suggest divinity. No trace of roses lingered around her; there was no holy brightness. But all of that changed with the season.

That night, as always, I waited until dark to look for a place to sleep. There was a spot in the bushes by the river that I often used, and after I smoothed the dirt with my hand, I gingerly pulled my sleeping bag from its sack, trying to keep the goose down from leaking out of the many small rips in the fabric. I aligned the bag north to south because I can't sleep crosswise to the earth currents, and then I checked to make sure it wasn't visible from the road. You see, when the season changes, it brings the college boys back to town. They come, all suburbs and sex, looking to show their frat-boy friends how to kick bums trapped in sleeping bags. They never got me, though. I knew their ways from teaching them, long ago. And from being one of them before that.

I sat and ate my supper, a splendid ripe tomato pinched from a backyard garden. With the tip of my knife, I saluted my unknowing benefactors. They of the white picket fence and cozy kitchen. When the tomato was gone, I put away my knife, wiped the juice out of my beard, and turned up the collar on my coat. I didn't take off my boots. As much as I hated the dirt going into my bag, boots tend to disappear if they're not on you, and boots can make the difference between staying alive and not.

I had settled in, hoping for sleep, when there was a commotion above the water. I opened my eyes, and she was there. She was a vision, a visitation, a sighting, a hallucination. All words for the same thing: the moment that imprinted itself on all the remaining moments of my life.

She hovered over the creek, swirled in ambrosial light. The water coursed around her feet, but her dress stayed dry. She held the baby close. Her mouth moved, but I couldn't hear the words, so I made my way to the edge of the water. She was the girl from Ronnie's, only with eyes as deep as the universe and wrapped in a cloak of glory. The smell of roses, the velvety ache of them, lured me in. She smiled at me and said, "Yours will be a magnificent role in the coming of my son."

I'm no newcomer to strangeness. I've had it all my life. It's my curse and my blessing that I can smell things other people can't. I can pick up the rotten sweetness of infection from across the street. Anger coming off a person is an acrid, mustardy thing, not unlike the odor of ants, and lying has a cloying, soapy smell that makes my mouth pleat. In the past, when social workers and do-gooders discovered my gift, they sent me to shrinks who gave me the latest antipsychotic. I tried to take them, but the drugs always made me go dead inside. Each time I ended up deciding to carry on intact, smells and all, rather than live in that pharmaceutical twilight.

I had been smelling things forever, but I had never had a vision before. And this was the real deal, complete with singing angels and rapturous awe. I knew instantly who she was. I hadn't been to church since I was a little boy, but I knew. I recognized her by the roses and by the blue of her robe. And before I realized what was happening, she reached between my ribs and took my heart in her hand. It settled there like a tame rat, trembling at her touch.

I don't know how long she was with me, but when I came back to myself, I was waist deep in the water and she was gone. And I knew that this was what I was supposed to do: find her in the flesh and serve her.

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn
A Novel
. Copyright © by Janis Hallowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide Introduction

In her evocative and imaginative debut, Janis Hallowell offers an intriguing premise: what if an ordinary community became convinced that one of its teenage girls had extraordinary healing powers? In Hallowell's inventive hands, the everyday and the divine become equally mysterious as young Francesca Dunn attempts to decipher the events of one startling chapter in her life.

Told from four points of view, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn introduces us to a perceptive adolescent and the dynamic figures who shape her world. Through a series of ambiguous events, Francesca finds herself lauded as a modern-day Holy Virgin. Depending on whose perspective you accept, the evidence is either troubling or cause for elation. Francesca's mother, a scientist, is concerned about her daughter's safety (and sanity). Francesca's best friend wavers between faith, envy, and opportunism. To Chester, a visionary homeless man, protecting Francesca also means protecting his own need to believe in the possibility of healing and recovery. And for Francesca herself, the transformation brings a mixed blessing of fear and empowerment.

Just as Francesca's story unfolds through several attitudes, the novel itself inspires a variety of meanings. With each of her gentle revelations, Janis Hallowell stirs compelling questions about the tenuous road to adulthood, the contemporary role of religion, and the trustworthiness of humanity. We hope that the following topics will enhance your discussion of this beautifully crafted novel.

Discussion Topics

  1. How would you have responded to Francesca's situation had she lived inyour community?

  2. What were the most convincing indications of Francesca's saintliness? What does her story indicate about society's varying capacities for faith?

  3. The media provide us with hundreds of contemporary 'annunciators.' What does it take for them to earn our trust? Who serves as Francesca's annunciator?

  4. In what ways does Francesca seek emotional and physical healing? Which men and women are most successful in easing the pain of her father's absence? Did the possibility of her divinity give her more or less power over the circumstances of her life?

  5. When Anne meets with Carol Markowitz, she observes that the attorney 'was religious, or at least spiritual, which didn't always match my picture of a good lawyer. To me, religion had always meant dogma, and spirituality had always meant wishful thinking.' Do Anne's subsequent experiences, particularly with Father Gervais, change or reinforce those assertions?

  6. Which of the novel's characters do you consider to be rational? Which ones are the most faithful? Are these two traits mutually exclusive?

  7. At the beginning of the novel, Chester poetically characterizes those around him in terms of his olfactory senses. What might be some of the noteworthy elements if he were to describe you in this way?

  8. Janis Hallowell strikes an ingenious balance of possibility throughout the novel; the gynecologist discovers that Francesca is partially virginal, for example, and Francesca's first encounters with healing are both absolute and imprecise. What could this indicate about the nature of myth and miracle?

  9. Discuss the religious parallels presented in the novel, such as Rae's foot washing rituals (which reflects a Biblical account of the eve of Christ's crucifixion). Are all of the book's religious symbols Christian ones?

  10. Sid and Jonah experience a kind of parenting that has little in common with Francesca's household. What does the spectrum of mothering look like in this community? Who are Ronnie's 'children'?

  11. What do the novel's male characters (including the boy from Francesca's beach trip) have in common? In what ways are they distinct?

  12. What is the effect of the novel's four points of view? Which one was most aligned with your outlook and life experiences?

  13. Though the novel closes with Francesca, the opening paragraphs are Chester's. What makes this an effective storytelling device?

  14. How do you define 'miracle'? Based on your definition, does Francesca instigate any miraculous events? In what ways does Sid's recollection of the restored rose serve as an appropriate benediction?

About the Author

Janis Hallowell was awarded an associateship by the Rocky Mountain Women's Institute to write The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn. A former potter's apprentice, world traveler, and graphic designer, she lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and their daughter.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2012

    Interesting Read

    I listened to it on tape, it was enjoyable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2008

    An Allegory for Our Times

    Janis Hallowell¿s The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn takes a surprisingly convincing leap of imagination into the lives of saints, or ordinary people who might be construed as such. I found myself wanting Francesca to be holy, a miracle, just as much as the book¿s many needy of heart and/or body did. This wise book, by causing me to recognize that wish in myself, expanded my understanding of the religious impulse. It is not a mindless drive toward mass hypnosis, as I¿ve sometimes suspected, but a need to love, surrender and revere. While the writing is as particular and the characters as real as in any realistic novel, the story is also an allegory, showing us, through the homeless Chester, the self-transcendence possible through worship, while also dissecting the corruption that often tempts those closest to worship¿s object. Francesca¿s best friend Sid is as tragically bound to betray her as Judas was Christ.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2005

    Page Turner

    The book was well written and was never dull. The book had interesting characters and a refreshing story line.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2004

    What a touching story!!

    What a joy it is to come across a novel like this. The people in the story are so captivating. You want the story to go and not end. Pick this book up... pass on the title and author.... this is a sleeper that should be as popular as 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2004

    A Fun Earthy Kind of Book

    The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn was a page turner! I started reading it around midnight, & I just couldn't put it down, until the crack of dawn!! It's full of quirky characters, who will make you laugh & sometimes feel amazed. Francesca,is a modern day Virgin, who volunteers her time feeding the homeless. Chester, once a teacher & a well read man, is homeless now, & has an extraordinary sense of olfactory enabling him to smell the very essence of human feelings. He camps out in Francesca's yard, to protect her from the ever growing population of believers. Then, there is a mysterious worshiper who leaves designs, made out of flower petals on Francescas doorstep each day. These loveable characters will instantly grow on you. I will never forget this book. I'm looking forward to more books writen by Janis Hallowell.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2010

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    Posted November 20, 2010

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    Posted March 21, 2010

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    Posted August 25, 2009

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