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.