"This deeply philosophical and psychologically complex novel will hold readers rapt."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Nolan demonstrates again that she is a masterful storyteller . . . Highly recommended."VOYA (5Qhighest rating)
"This powerfully written novel is outstanding . . . scary, gripping, and gratifying."School Library Journal
Nolan (Dancing on the Edge) poses thought-provoking questions about religious fervor, faith and reason in this mysterious tale of two lost teens. Archie Caswell, the 14-year-old orphaned narrator, is a lonely, confused adolescent shaken by some disturbing events in his small Southern town. First his best friend moves away, then his grandfather (and guardian) takes ill. On his deathbed, Archie's grandfather (known as a prophet) makes a proclamation, pointing at Archie and saying, "Young man, you are a saint!" Archie doesn't feel very godly, but he starts to put some stock in the prophecy when a newcomer, Clare Simpson, convinces him that they are both being called by God. Nolan delicately explores the gray area between dedication and fanaticism as readers, through Archie, become alternately mesmerized by Clare's goodness and deep spirituality, and puzzled by her actions. After Clare convinces Archie to join her on a pilgrimage to the Cloisters in New York City, the journey reveals deeper issues; he begins to wonder whether he and Clare are following the right path or chasing an illusion that could lead them to harm. This deeply philosophical and psychologically complex novel will hold readers rapt for the author's skillfully drawn characters and her exploration of the role of religion and faith in coming of age. While Archie is cast as a sympathetic hero struggling to find himself, the enigma of the more remote Clare is what keeps the pages turning; audience members are left to ponder whether she is truly a Christ figure or an emotionally disturbed teen bent on self-destruction. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This stunning YA novel by National Book Award winner Han Nolan takes on the neglected topic of adolescent spirituality in an intense, probing story of a 14-year-old boy, Archie Caswell, who sets out to strive toward sainthood in the company of a complex, mysterious girl who considers herself to be the current incarnation of Saint Clare. Together, the two run away from their concerned families and close-knit Southern community on a pilgrimage in search of enlightenment at the Cloisters in New York City. They carry no worldly goods, trusting to the Lord (with considerable success) to provide for all their needs. Archie alternates between moments of rapturous ecstasy in communion with God, guilt over leaving his dying grandmother, love for Clare that has more physical yearning in it than he is willing to admit, and increasing anxiety over Clare's mounting fanaticism. At what point does mysticism cross over into mere insanity? What does Jesus really ask of those who commit themselves to follow Him? The novel offers no easy answers, but explores the quest of these two young aspiring saints in remarkable depth, mingling respect for even the most extreme expressions of religious devotion with skepticism regarding the ever-present potential for religious faith to result in self-deception. A brilliant, memorable book. 2003, Harcourt, Ages 12 up.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2003: Those of you familiar with Nolan's work (Dancing on the Edge and Born Blue) know she doesn't shy away from difficult subjects such as troubled teenagers and religious themes. An excellent cover showing a hand with a bleeding wound of the stigmata is an introduction. Are people who see religious visions mentally ill? Through most of this story, we aren't sure. This is a lengthy (for a YA novel) story, with exquisitely developed characters in Archie and Clare. Clare calls Archie "Francis," and he discovers that her name is actually Doris, but she identifies so closely with Saint Clare, the friend of St. Francis of Assisi, that she thinks her name is Clare and Archie is actually Francis. She is beautiful, charismatic, loving. She sees Archie's desperation after his grandfather dies and his grandmother is ill in a hospital, and she suggests all sorts of meditations and religious rituals that distract him from his fear if nothing else. She persuades him to take the family truck and drive them (he is only 14) from the South where they live to Manhattan where they can visit the Cloisters. They have little money for food, which Clare isn't interested in anyway. When they are desperate, she manages to attract people who offer food and shelter. Han Nolan is so smart, she tells this story so that readers, like Archie, can see Clare as an amazing person, unusual, perhaps a saint. It is only later, as Clare becomes more and more emaciated, suffering the wounds of the stigmata, almost delirious, that Archie decides he must go against her wishes and seek the help of doctors. I am a great fan of Han Nolan's work, always, andyet I can understand that most of her novels, though critically acclaimed, will not have wide popular appeal among teenagers, mostly because they are filled with disturbed and disturbing characters. This story will perhaps need readers already fascinated by religion and by mental illnessotherwise they might just dismiss Archie and Clare as too strange for words. The road trip undertaken by these teenagers will be the most appealing part of the story, and perhaps that is the way to introduce the book to YAs. KLIATT Codes: JSARecommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Harcourt, 291p., Ages 12 to adult.
Gr 7 Up-Archie, 14, is a thorn in his Bible-thumping grandfather's side until, on his deathbed, he pokes Archie and utters his final words, "Young man, you are a saint." The teen is swayed into believing this might be a prophetic blessing by the arrival of the beautiful and enigmatic Clare, who declares that they are soul mates, inheritors of the spirit of the original Saints Francis and Clare. Archie is besotted by a powerful mixture of innocent longing and religious fervor while guilt-ridden that he might have caused his grandfather's death. He grows increasingly confused by Clare. Is she merely a masterful manipulator or is she driven by a devotion to a monastic life of simplicity, love, and forgiveness? Is she divine or crazy? Archie's newfound piety causes him to ignore important earthly human relationships and he and Clare set off on a pilgrimage to her "home," the Cloisters museum in New York City, by stealing his grandfather's truck and driving illegally. Archie is a caring and likable protagonist, a budding artist whose vulnerabilities are legion. Both teens are portrayed as being sincere, if over the top, in their search for religious fulfillment. Clare is clearly troubled, and by the end of the novel, she is institutionalized. The conclusion suggests that, for better or worse, the ecstatic "saint" Clare may someday return. This powerfully written novel is outstanding in terms of the intensity of the experience described. It may seem overlong to some young people but those teens with an interest in matters of faith will find it credible, scary, gripping, and gratifying.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
"Young man, you are a saint!" are Archie's grandfather's dying words. They plunge the heretofore spiritually unquestioning 14-year-old into a morass of doubt. He sure doesn't think he's a saint, but when he meets the charismatic Clare, he begins to think that maybe he can become one. Under her tutelage, he renounces worldly things and spends hours upon hours in isolated prayer. Things come to a head when Clare convinces him to drive her to New York, where she intends to take up residence-with him-in the Cloisters, a move that causes Archie to see both his own faith and Clare's imbalance clearly. The notion of a 21st-century saint, as embodied by the religious ecstatic Clare, is a fascinating one, and it speaks powerfully to a teen's need for spiritual self-definition. But Archie's Hamlet-like back-and-forth about whether to follow Clare's program becomes tedious, and his own revelation at the Cloisters, while thematically apt, smacks not a little of deus ex machina. That certainly may be the point, but as a narrative strategy, it's more than a little frustrating. (Fiction. YA)