Fresh and funny, this debut novel introduces a 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl who experiences typical adolescent angst but has her own way of dealing with it: Antonia regularly petitions the saints. Longing for her first kiss, she settles on St. Augustine as an intercessor ("Hark back to your wayward youth," she urges him in her Saint Diary), but when her prayer gets her more aggressive action than she bargained for, Antonia decides to fill the gap in hagiography and proposes herself as the patron saint of the first kiss. Her e-mails to the Vatican (inhabited here by a pope open to the notion of women priests, gay marriage, etc.) add flair to a coming-of-age novel already vivid for its warm portrayal of urban Italian-American family life. "My daughter looks like a puttana! What have I done to deserve this?" shrieks Antonia's widowed mother when she catches Antonia rolling up the waist of her school uniform (Antonia's list of the "Top Five Ways Italians Express Love" begins with "by being totally honest with each other, i.e., fighting"). While getting at serious issues, Freitas (author of Killing the Imposter God and a frequent contributor to PW) wins readers over with a beautifully sustained light touch. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Possibilities of Sainthoodby Donna Freitas
Antonia Lucia Labella has two secrets: at fifteen, she's still waiting for her first kiss, and she wants to be a saint. An official one. Seem strange? Well, to Antonia, saints are royalty, and she wants her chance at being a princess. All her life she's kept company with these kings and queens of small favors, knowing exactly whom to pray to on every occasion.… See more details below
Antonia Lucia Labella has two secrets: at fifteen, she's still waiting for her first kiss, and she wants to be a saint. An official one. Seem strange? Well, to Antonia, saints are royalty, and she wants her chance at being a princess. All her life she's kept company with these kings and queens of small favors, knowing exactly whom to pray to on every occasion. Unfortunately, the two events Antonia's prayed for seem equally unlikely to happen. It's not for lack of trying. For how long has she been hoping to gain the attention of the love of her life – the tall, dark, and so good-looking Andy Rotellini? Too long to mention. And every month for the last eight years, Antonia has sent a petition to the Vatican proposing a new patron saint and bravely offering herself for the post. So what if she's not dead?
But as Antonia learns, in matters of the heart and sainthood, things are about as straightforward as wound-up linguini, and sometimes you need to recognize the signs.
Gr 7 Up
Antonia Lucia Labella, 15, strives to become the first living saint in the history of the Catholic Church. She petitions various saints for any number of reasons, big and small, serious and amusing. Every month for the last eight years, she has written to the Vatican with a new idea for a patron saint for everything from fig trees to kisses and offered herself as a candidate for the position. Her first request after the death of her father was to become the Patron Saint of Daddy's Heart. Each suggestion has been met with silence, but Antonia hasn't given up hope. The teen's life revolves around working at Labella's Market (the best homemade pasta in Rhode Island), school, boys, and saints. Freitas brings to life the protagonist's experiences at a Catholic school and in an immigrant family. First loves and family feuds fill the pages. Antonia wants nothing more than to experience her first kiss with her longtime crush and is horrified when his advances indicate a desire for more. She takes her religion seriously, without proselytizing. With a satisfying ending, this novel about the realistic struggles of a chaste teen is a great addition to all collections.-Cara von Wrangel Kinsey, New York Public Library
“Catholic schoolgirl Antonia Labella aims for canonization in this satisfying comedy.” People magazine
“Hilarious and sweet.” Miami Herald
“Behold: A rare bloom of a book, a genuflection toward the reality that today's young can still be, more likely than not, good at heart. The Possibilities of Sainthood while never gloomy or dogmatic, is a literary work of mercy. Let us rejoice and be glad.” Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked
“With a satisfying ending, this novel about the realistic struggles of a chaste teen is a great addition to all collections.” School Library Journal, Starred Review
“Fresh and funny, this debut novel introduces a 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl who experiences typical adolescent angst but has her own way of dealing with it: Antonia regularly petitions the saints. . . . Her e-mails to the Vatican (inhabited here by a pope open to the notion of women priests, gay marriage, etc.) add flair to a coming-of-age novel already vivid for its warm portrayal of urban Italian-American family life.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Like good homemade pasta, this satisfying novel balances lightness with substance and leaves teens wanting another serving.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“First-time novelist Freitas hops into the romance genre and brightens and heightens it by providing characters who are anything but run-of-the-mill.” Booklist, Starred Review
“Donna Freitas has created a warmhearted story filled with humor, reflections and life. Antonia is amazing: very goal-orientated, determined, guided by her heart, a character who almost becomes a real friend. Freitas has a writing style that invites a reader to step into the story, to become part of it, and really feel the emotions and actions of her characters . . . a charming a witty book.” Teenreads.com
“Clever and highly entertaining.” Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
“Utterly fresh and funny, The Possibilities of Sainthood has heart. The voice of Antonia Lucia Labella is authentic and endearing. A contagious energy pulsates throughout, pulling us into a wholly believable world of burying fig trees, navigating girlhood, petitioning the Pope, and above all else--possibilities.” Tanya Lee Stone, author of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl
“The Possibilities of Sainthood is like the kiss Antonia longs for: passionate, funny, truthful, and most of all, a pleasure.” Emily Franklin, author of At Face Value and The Other Half of Me
“Donna Freitas' lighthearted look at one adolescent's journey through school, boys, and her religion is a slice of slightly irreligious, yet redemptive Catholic culture.” ALAN Online Picks
“It's one of those stories which displays real life.” A YALSA YA Galley Teen Reader
“It's funny and true to life.” A YALSA YA Galley Teen Reader
“This book is super cool! It made me laugh, a lot.” A YALSA YA Galley Teen Reader
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Read an Excerpt
The Possibilities of Sainthood
By Donna Freitas
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2008 Donna Freitas
All rights reserved.
I pray to St. Sebastian About Gym Class and Thank God I'm Not Named After the Patron Saint of Snakebites
I gazed up at the familiar boy. A golden aura surrounds his beautiful, muscular body, arrows poking into him from every direction.
Poor saint, I thought to myself. I hope it doesn't hurt.
Sebastian's stare was piercing, as if he were looking right through me. As if his gaze were another arrow pointed my way.
I closed my eyes but the image stayed. It should. The picture of St. Sebastian had been hanging on the wall in our living room for as long as I could remember, right near the old-fashioned record player my mother listened to when she was dusting all the other saint statues and figurines, her daily tribute to the men and women who watch over us. Occasionally I'd come home from school and Mom would be belting out "That's Amore" or "Volare" in her just-off-the-boat Italian accent. I had to be careful not to bring anyone up to the apartment when I heard music playing, or they might think she was crazy. She's a character, my mother.
But then, all Catholics are a weird bunch. Especially the Italian ones.
I opened my eyes and read quietly from my Saint Diary.
Dear St. Sebastian:
O Patron Saint of Athletes, please help me not look stupid tomorrow in gym class when we play soccer even though I am not very fast, kick the ball in the wrong direction occasionally, and sometimes forget which team I'm on. And I promise I won't sit down out on the field this time if they make me play defense again and I get bored. Ideally, I'd like to play more like Hilary, our star soccer player (even though she is named after the Patron Saint of Snakebites). But if I can't be as good as Hilary, I'll settle for just not getting picked last. And don't forget about Mrs. Bevalaqua. It would be really great if her arthritis got better so she could walk again. Thank you, St. Sebastian, for your intercession in these matters.
I lit the worn-down pillar candle beneath sexy Sebastian and gave him a longing look, as if I could will him to step out of his frame. It was right about then that my moment alone with the half-naked, holy babe was interrupted.
"Time to get ready for bed, Antonia! It's getting late and you have school tomorrow," Mom yelled from the kitchen.
"I'm praying," I called back, my voice all "Please don't interrupt my saint time," aware that the surest way into whatever flexibility my mother could offer was through piety.
"Five more minutes, then!"
I started to close my diary when I noticed that the corner of my St. Anthony mass card was peeling. I smoothed the edge gently, lovingly, as if I were brushing the cheek of Andy Rotellini, the boy I'd been in love with since the summer before ninth grade. A crease was beginning to mark the murky blue sky surrounding Anthony, dark against the gleam of his halo. I dipped my pinkie into the pool of hot wax around the candlewick and placed a tiny drop on the corner of the card, refastening it to the page. Below St. Anthony's image was a pocket made of thick, red linen paper, stuffed with devotions and prayers, some on random scraps of this and that, others scribbled on colorful Post-its. Anthony's page had more devotions than any other saint in my diary.
My Saint Diaries were my most sacred possessions.
"I'm praying, Mommy," said a voice behind me, singsong and catty, sending a shiver up my spine. Not the scary sort of shiver or even the good kind, but the "blech" kind you felt when you met up with something disgusting. "I'm such a good little holier-than-thou girl, Mommy," the voice went on, its nasal tone like nails against a chalkboard.
"Veronica," I said, whirling around to face my cousin — who also starred as the evil nemesis in my life, not to be overly melodramatic or anything, because it is totally true. Veronica is eVil with a capital V. I tucked my Saint Diary behind me, making sure it was hidden.
Veronica was at the apartment trying to learn some of the Italian cookie recipes from my mother because her mother, my aunt Silvia, was determined that at least one of her three daughters would turn out to be a kitchen natural and grow up to usurp my mother at the family store. I'd thought I could successfully avoid Veronica's visit, but I was wrong. My blood began to boil, but I took comfort in the fact that Veronica's outfit was way too tight and her hair was so teased and sprayed that she was the caricature of a Rhode Island Mall Rat. "Remember when you used to be a nice person and people like me could actually stand to be around you?" I asked, once I knew my temper was in check.
"Remember when you used to not be such a total baby?" Sarcasm oozed from Veronica's voice. Something — maybe almond paste? — was smeared down the side of her face. I bet she squeezed it straight from the tube into her mouth like a greedy glutton. "You and your mother think you're so high and mighty."
"Veronica ..." my mother was calling. "Veronica? If you are not here to watch, you are never going to learn how to fold these egg whites into the batter properly ... Yoohoo! Where are you?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming, Auntie," she said, rolling her eyes and disappearing back down the hall. Her footsteps thudded against the wood floor. Thud. Thud.
My cousin, the elephant.
As soon as Veronica was gone, the tension disappeared from my body. I grabbed my Saint Diary from where I'd stashed it and sighed with relief.
My Saint Diaries were also my most secret possessions.
Each year on my birthday, February 14, St. Valentine's Day, I began a new volume, fixing different colored pockets onto the pages of a thick book, compiling a section marked "Notes" for my new saint ideas (like a Patron Saint of Homework or a Patron Saint of Notice — as in "Notice me, please, Andy Rotellini!"). Most important of all, I chose which out of the many thousands of official saints to venerate during the year. Tradition, my tradition, dictated that St. Anthony of Padua, the Patron Saint for Lost Things, got page number one. Always.
Volume 8, the record of my fifteenth year, was rose red, my favorite color.
In the back was a section for the occasional, precious response letter from the Vatican. (Really they were rejection letters, but I liked to think of them as responses because that sounded less depressing.) I held on to these to remind myself that at least they knew I existed. For the hope that one day, I might just get through to them.
You know, The Vatican People.
Any day now, the news would arrive. My Patron Saint of Figs proposal was a winner. I could feel it.
"Antonia! Sbrigati!" my mother yelled, shattering this moment of hope with her I'm-getting-angry voice and an Italian command that loosely translated as "Get your butt off to bed immediately and don't tell me you're still praying because I won't buy it this time." Early bedtime somehow applied to me but not my cousin.
I faced Sebastian one last time, the heat of the candle flame warm on my chin. "St. Sebastian," I whispered, gazing into his blue eyes, "if you can help me figure out the saint thing, I'd really appreciate it. It's already been thirteen days since I sent the last letter."
"Antonia Lucia Labella!" (That's "lou-chia," by the way, like the pet.)
"Okay, one more last thing," I said, tempting the full force of Mom's rage, my lips level with Sebastian's now, as if we were about to kiss. "Even though I know that technically in the Catholic church you have to be dead to be a saint, I really don't want to die if you can help it. Fifteen is too young to die."
I blew out the candle. A thin stream of smoke drifted up from the blackened wick, reaching toward heaven, and I wondered if I'd soon follow, joining all those who'd gone before me.
In a manner befitting a saint.CHAPTER 2
My Mother Calls Me a Prostitute, Which Is Code for "Antonia, You Look Sexy Today," and I Ask St. Denis the Beheaded Bishop for Assistance
"Antonia! You are not going out like that!"
"What are you talking about, Mom?" I answered, trying to sound innocent and all. Who me? Have I done something wrong? I was tiptoeing through the front hall hoping to get out the door unnoticed on my way to school.
"Antonia! Don't you dare take another step!"
I looked behind me. Mom was leaning against the doorway between the foyer and the kitchen, staring at my legs, upset as usual about the state of my school uniform. I shoved my hand into my backpack to locate the socks she was going to make me wear despite any protests.
"O Madonna! Your bare legs! I can see so much thigh you may as well not be wearing a skirt!" She was using her it's-the-end-of-the-world voice, her left hand moving spastically as she talked. Her dark, roller-filled hair jiggled like a pile of fresh-made gnocchi on its way to the table, as her head shook with disapproval. "My daughter looks like a puttana! What have I done to deserve this?"
Important Italian Vocab to Note:
Madonna refers to the Madonna, aka, the real virgin, not the "Like a Virgin" Madonna, the famous pop star. It's pronounced "ma-dawn," heavy on the n, drop the last a.
Puttana is Italian for "prostitute" and is known to fly out of my mother's mouth in my direction. I like to think of it as a compliment. You know, my mother's special way of noting out loud that her daughter is looking particularly sexy at the moment.
"Calm down, Ma," I said, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. Every day on my way to school I'd try to sneak out the door in what my best friend Maria and I regarded as coolness of the uniform, that is, as cool as we could possibly make our yellow, green, and white pleated plaid skirt and matching Catholic schoolgirl gear. And every day Mom would tell me I looked like a streetwalker (her favorite English synonym for puttana).
Then we'd argue.
"Are you showing off for the boys, Antonia?" I glanced over my shoulder to find my grandmother in the living room watching me, giggling, swaying in her rocking chair, her tiny body wrapped tight in her old blue bathrobe. Her white frizzed-out hair was styled like she might be auditioning for the part of Einstein's mother.
I felt my face turn red.
"Gram! Sshhh," I pleaded, giving her a meaningful look. "You're not helping." Gram had lived with Mom and me in the apartment above the family store since Dad died when I was seven. She was partly to blame for my saint obsessions. Her bedroom was filled with icons, mass cards, and pillar-candle shrines. A glass-domed porcelain baby Jesus dressed as a king with a big fancy crown and flowing red robes — the Infant of Prague — sat center stage on her bureau. Gram's room was like a shrine.
"And after you find those socks you are going to unroll that skirt until I can't see even an inch of thigh!" Mom stepped toward me as if she was going to do the uniform adjustment herself.
"Ma! Seriously. I'll fix everything when I get to school," I said, but my pleas were futile. She was staring at my waist with the look of a bull about to charge. "Nobody else goes to school in uniform. You should see Veronica and Concetta ..." Concetta was Veronica's sister, the middle child of my wicked trio of cousins. Francesca was the third and the oldest.
"I don't care about your cousins and that is your aunt Silvia's business if she wants to let her daughters leave the house half-naked."
My mother had gone to a Catholic girls' school, too — starting in sixth grade, when her family immigrated from Napoli — and in every picture she's in textbook uniform: sensible brown shoes, kneesocks stretched until the threads are about to snap, plaid skirt lengthened to below the knee, so that bare skin is totally hidden, long-sleeved oxford shirt buttoned up to her chin. My mother always looked perfect and virginal. I might be technically virginal, but that didn't mean I needed to look that way.
All Normal Catholic Schoolgirls had creative ways of sluttifying our pure-as-the-driven-snow required attire.
Catholic Girl's Guide to Uniform Alteration
1. Most important is rolling your skirt so that it is a virtual mini (you keep folding it over at the waistband).
The key to successful skirt rolling is to be sure your Catholic pleated plaid is already hemmed at least two inches above the knee. Otherwise, if you have to fold it over, like, twenty times at the waist, you end up looking as if you've got a serious amount of extra inches around the middle. Not attractive. If you have a mother like mine who insists on skirts at least to the knee, then you have several possible options: get out the ironing board and iron the desired hem, then either tape said hem or carefully safety-pin it all around the bottom, ideally so that none of the pins show through to the front. Why not just pull out a needle and thread and hem it for real? Because you always need to be prepared for emergency hem-letting-down when your mother wonders why your skirt seems so short. If she realizes you illegally hemmed it, getting grounded is almost inevitable.
2. The question of boxer shorts: to wear or not to wear boxer shorts underneath your skirt?
Catholic mothers across the nation hate this trend of girls wearing boxers even more so than the rolling up of the plaid. Preferably, you should buy your own boxers. It's weird to steal from Dad, though some girls do it. I don't know when or who started the boxers craze, but it's been going on for as long as I've been at Catholic school (which is always). To be honest, I don't know why wearing boxers is cool, because sometimes, frankly, it looks kind of bad, but we do it anyway. Still, depending on how much you want the boys to see, boxers are a good preventive measure for the accidental flashing factor.
3. Legs: as bare as possible. Wear socks only when you are made to, and when wearing them, make sure they are scrunched down to the ankles. Never, I repeat, never wear tights.
4. Standard white oxford: ideally two buttons undone and never buttoned all the way to the neck. Cute, tight-fitting tank top underneath for before and after school when you are hanging out in the parking lot.
The tank top allows you to remove the required oxford entirely if you so choose and transform yourself into the ideal sexy Catholic schoolgirl that every Catholic schoolboy wants to go out with. Note: Never ever let your mother or teacher/principal see you in just a tank top or you'll be in trouble for sure.
"In my day, the nuns used to measure our skirts!" My mother waved her right hand as she launched into her familiar uniform lecture. I dropped my backpack onto the dark tile of our foyer. It made a satisfying thump when it hit the floor and I struck my best here-we-go-again pose, which involved some hip-jutting, impatient sighing, and foot-tapping. "We had to kneel down on the floor, and if the hem didn't touch the ground we were sent home."
Oh, the drama.
"Yeah, Ma. I know. You've told me. Like eighty times."
"You don't learn to dress like a respectful Labella girl soon and I'm going to make you kneel down every morning before leaving the house to measure your skirt! You just wait." Her hand buzzed around her like a fly. "If your father were still alive ..."
"Don't even go there, Ma" I said, interrupting, feeling hurt that she would pull the Dad card. "If Dad were around he'd spend more time telling me to have a good day and less time freaking out over stupid things like whether or not I am wearing socks and the exact length of my uniform skirt."
"No respect," she muttered. "You used to be such a nice little girl. What did I do wrong? O Madonna!"
I sat down with a huff in an old wooden chair to put on my green socks. Anything to get Mom off my back and myself out the door. I said a quick prayer to St. Denis, the Patron Saint Against Strife and Headaches, for added assistance (who, incidentally, is usually portrayed holding his head in his hands because he was, well, beheaded, and therefore the perfect poster boy for people worrying about headaches).
"St. Agnes, help this child," my mother rambled on, under her breath. St. Agnes is the Patron Saint of Bodily Purity and Chastity, and one of her favorites.
"Pull. Them. Up. Antonia." Mom didn't like the fact that I'd squished my kneesocks down to my ankles. She was in front of me now with hands on hips, her "Kiss the Cook" apron tied around her middle. Dad gave it to her for Christmas one year. She always wore it. There was a smear of flour on her face, which meant she'd been making pasta. She got up at ungodly hours to make it from scratch.
Time to raise the white flag, I decided, stretching my socks to my knees. I stood up and marched toward the door, hoping to get out without any further assaults on my attire.
I had to give Mom credit on at least one count: despite the psychotic behavior, no one else could make pasta like she did. A few pinches of this, a little bit of that, some flour, eggs, and poof! It was like magic.
Excerpted from The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas. Copyright © 2008 Donna Freitas. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
DONNA FREITAS has been a professor at Boston University and at Hofstra in New York. She is currently splitting her time between Barcelona and New York and writing full time.
Donna Freitas is an author of books for both teens and adults. Her nonfiction books for adults include, most recently, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Oxford), based on a national study about the influence of sexuality and romantic relationships on the spiritual identities of America’s college students. She is also a devoted fan of the celebrated British children’s author Philip Pullman, and her book about the religious and ethical dimensions of his award-winning trilogy Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman’s Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials (Jossey-Bass/Wiley) hit the bookshelves in the middle of a major, national controversy about the release of the trilogy’s first movie installment.
Much of her writing, teaching, and lecturing centers around struggles of belonging and alienation with regard to faith, particularly among young adults and especially with regard to young women. She loves to ask Big Questions (Why are we here anyway?) and delights in discovering the many possible forums in which to dabble with the stuff of faith, religion, spirituality, and gender.
A regular contributor to The Washington Post/Newsweek’s online panel “On Faith,” the religion webzine Beliefnet, and Publishers Weekly, she has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Christian Century, and School Library Journal, and she has appeared as a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered. Her books also include Becoming a Goddess of Inner Poise: Spirituality for the Bridget Jones in All of Us and Save the Date: A Spirituality of Dating, Love, Dinner&the Divine.
Born in Rhode Island, Donna received her B.A. in philosophy and Spanish from Georgetown University and her Ph.D. in religion from Catholic University. She has been a professor at Boston University and at Hofstra in New York. She is currently splitting her time between Barcelona and New York and writing full time. Donna describes herself as an ardent feminist, a Catholic despite it all, an intense intellectual, and a fashion devotee all rolled into one.
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