Idol Chatter

freitas_sainthood.jpgWhen you’re a 15-year-old girl, dealing with school, boys, and family is drama enough. When you’re a 15-year-old Catholic girl and your name is Antonia Lucia Labella, you not only deal with all three, you also pray to saints and write to the Vatican about them.
In her first young adult novel, “The Possibilities of Sainthood,” Donna Freitas (Editor’s Note: Freitas is an Idol Chatter blogger and a regular contributor to Beliefnet) perfectly captures the hormonal and emotional thoughts of a teen girl. In-between proposing herself to be the first living saint (like the Patron Saint of the First Kiss and Kissing), Antonia dreams about receiving her first kiss from her crush Andy Rotellini while also fending off the flirtations of could-have-been-boyfriend Michael McGinnis. Of course, there are also fights with mom about the length of her Catholic uniform’s hemline and battles with her manipulative and jealous cousin Veronica. Thankfully, a girl can’t make it through the everyday rough-and-tumbles without an understanding best friend–Maria.

Freitas’s dialogue is breezy and studded with noticeable teen exuberance in capitalized words and exclamation marks. Even when Antonia almost borders on shallow, thinking mostly about boys and how to make her Catholic uniform sexy, Antonia’s deep connection with her faith, especially with the saints, grounds the character and the story. Antonia is fascinated by miracles because she sees miracles in the neighborhood around her, particularly when Mrs. Bevalaqua, a wheelchair-bound woman, begins to walk again. Antonia’s deep belief in miracles also propels her to write letters regularly to the Vatican to insist on new saints (for figs, pasta, and kisses) and to urge that she be considered for the positions. While most young teens may be wishing to become affluent lawyers or doctors, Antonia only wishes to become the Vatican’s first living saint, making her someone spiritually special and deeply connected with others around her.
Through her letters to the Vatican, her petitions to the saints (kept in her collection of saint journals), and her personal thoughts, Antonia’s personality leaps off the page and you cheer for her as she pursues her goals (whether it’s for the guy or for sainthood). Anyone who has struggled to remain a good girl while also trying to embrace a wild side (in a healthy way) can relate to Antonia and the situations she faces in life.
However, as a first novel, the narrative often feels cluttered and Antonia’s past stories and motives aren’t as defined. One yearns for more nuanced thoughts about her deceased father, her relationship with her Alzheimer’s-prone grandmother, her fall-out with Veronica, and her fear of Michael getting too close. A few situations, while not unbelievable, could have benefited from more detailed background information (e.g. when Antonia first saw Andy Rotellini, how Antonia spent her summer with Michael, what happened after Mrs. Bevalaqua’s miracle).
Alhough Antonia’s teen-isms and over-dramatic thoughts can be distracting at times, taking away from the (often too brief) action moments that happen, Freitas has taken a very unique concept (a girl who desires to be a living saint) and mixed it with a universal concept (a girl who just wants to be kissed). The latter is certainly something every girl and woman can relate to no matter their faith, in this very ambitious new novel.

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