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The Possibilities of Sainthood

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The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas is a completely touching and funny novel, with a witty and quirky central character who is so full of life that you’d swear she might live in your neighborhood or work down the street at your local Italian grocery store. This book charmed me from beginning to end, and I’m not the only one piling on the praise. It received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal. You can read those reviews here, at the Possibilities of Sainthood site. Impressive.

I’d been wanting to read Donna Freitas’s book since I first heard about it at the Class of 2k8 website. It’s the premise that caught me. Antonia Lucia Labella is a good Catholic girl. She lives with her mom and her grandma in an apartment on top of the family grocery store, Labella’s Market of Federal Hill. She’s not exactly ordinary, since every month for the last eight years Antonia has sent a petition to the Vatican suggesting a new patron saint and presenting herself as the best girl for the job. Whether it’s the Patron Saint of Figs and Fig Trees, the Patron Saint of People Who Make Pasta, or the Patron Saint of the First Kiss, Antonia is convinced she’s up for becoming the Catholic Church’s first living saint (especially if it will help her to bury the family fig tree, or make better ravioli, or finally get kissed). When she not consumed by researching all things saintly, and coming up with more Patron saint ideas, Antonia thinks a lot about her crush, super-hot Andy Rotellini, and tries to avoid her sort-of-friend Michael McGinnes, the boy she almost kissed last summer. Mix in some wonderful Italian cooking and plenty of rich details of a close-knit, lively Italian-American community, and the whole package is as satisfying as a steaming bowl of spaghetti bolognese (or squash ravioli… or Fettuccine Alfredo…)

It’s Antonia’s voice that really makes this story shine and sneak into your heart. She’s hilarious and honest and smart, and she’s also a bit geeky and strange and unsure. Her letters to the Vatican Committee on Sainthood are a riot – one of the best aspects of the novel, that’s for sure. You will laugh out loud. Freitas succeeds brilliantly in capturing a fifteen year-old’s voice, her hope, her innocent self-absorption and her impatience for life to just do what she wants it to. You don’t find a character as believable and real as Antonia everyday. The next best thing about The Possibilities of Sainthood is the feeling that you are snatching a glimpse of real life. It’s about everyday life, what makes it ordinary and exceptional and sometimes perfect. It’s also about doing good, and being good, and looking for what’s good in your life right now. This is a rare story that manages to balance lightness with depth. I think that’s the definition of heart-warming right there.

All that’s missing? A couple of recipes at the back of the book. The novel begs for it. I think it would complete the warm and welcoming tone of the story, and bring readers even more into the heart of Antonia’s family, neighborhood and culture. I’d read more about Antonia in a heartbeat. Here’s hoping that Freitas has more books like this cooking for all of us.

The Possibilities of Sainthood is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Cybils 2008 Winners

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The winners of 2008 Cybil Awards have just been announced over at the Cybils site. How exciting! I look at this list of winners and I can’t help but think that 2008 was a cracker year for books: The Hunger Games, The Graveyard Book, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and toss in a little Naomi Shihab Nye and Mo Willems and Shannon Hale and wowza! It’s like everybody who’s anybody is on this Cybils list.

I’d like to post here the description of the winning book in the category I was organizing and helping to judge: Middle Grade Fiction. This year’s winner is Siobhan Dowd’s, The London Eye Mystery. Here’s our teaser:

londoneyeBrother and sister, Ted and Kat, take their cousin Salim to see the London Eye, the city’s gigantic Ferris wheel. While Ted and Kat watch, Salim gets into one of the glass pods, but thirty minutes later he doesn’t get off. So the siblings set out to find their cousin. Complicating the situation, Ted’s brain “runs on a different operating system” from other people’s, which makes him a lot better at facts and figures than he is at reading people. Narrated in Ted’s voice, this is a page-turner that brings London to life and takes readers inside a powerfully rational mind. The London Eye Mystery shows off kids’ natural ingenuity and proves that difference can be a strength, as Ted and Kat work to solve the irresistible riddle of their cousin’s disappearance.

I enjoyed Dowd’s book immensely, and I think many kids will feel the same way. It’s exciting and clever, narrated by an engaging and unusual kid and it offers readers a look into a quirky, and extraordinarily real-seeming family. I remember when I put down the book after reading it, I immediately felt so sad that we won’t be seeing any more stories from Siobhan Dowd, who died very young in August 2007. This book inspired me to read Dowd’s YA title, A Swift Pure Cry, further proof of her outstanding talent for storytelling. The London Eye Mystery will make you want to visit London and fly the Eye for yourself, and you’ll root for Ted and Kat as they put their natural sleuthing skills to the test.

It wasn’t easy to choose a winner in our category, as all of the titles offer something so different and worthy to this age group. I hope many kids read the other finalists: Diamond Willow (Helen Frost), Alvin Ho (Lenore Look), Shooting the Moon (Frances O’Roark Dowell) and Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass).

A huge thank you again to the wonderful group of MG Fiction panelists and my fellow judges, who all worked very hard (and read even harder) to whittle many fantastic reads down to one winning title. It was a treat working with all of you and getting to chat and share opinions about such fine writing. Cybils 4-ever!

Middle Grade Fiction Panelists
Sarah Mulhern, The Reading Zone
Alysa Stewart, Everead
Mary R. Voors, ACPL Mock Newbery
Sherry Early, Semicolon
Kim Baccellia
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Matthew Wigdahl, The Book Club Shelf

Middle Grade Fiction Judges
Kelly Herold, Big A little a
Eric Berlin
J.L. Bell, Oz and Ends
Kerry Millar, Shelf Elf (go me!)
Julie M. Prince, Off to Turn Another Page