Hanni knew that the Nazis would soon find them. Her mother was too sick to move, so she had to stay in Berlin to care for her, but she would find some way to get her fourteen-year-old Lea out of the country. Hanni pled to the rabbi’s wife, but she refused to help them. However, her daughter, Ettie, overheard the plea and offered to use forbidden kabala magic to help Hanni if she would pay for her and her sister to escape, as well. The women gathered to create a golem that they named Ava, an inhuman creature who looked like a young woman and was tasked to protect Lea at all costs. Before Ava could be discovered, the four young women boarded a train bound for the closest safe place: Paris.
As the reader knows, Paris was anything but safe during World War II, and the four fugitives struggle to stay alive and save their loved ones over the remaining years of the Nazi regime. Not all are successful, but those who survive evolve into beings fit for the new world being born.
With her gift for magical realism, Hoffman moves the plot into interwoven stories, crossing and knotting many strands. Danger, courage, love, and sacrifice define the choices that they make. Alice Hoffman has been an author I have appreciated many times over the years, and in this novel, she is finally writing out the true-life story that a fan related to her decades ago. In The World That We Knew, Hoffman combines two of my favorite genres, historical fiction and a hint of fantasy. Very highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
The Soria family was driven from their home in Mexico because the people there were afraid of their magical powers, so they settled in the Colorado desert in a place they call Bicho Raro. Pilgrims come from all over the world to ask for a miracle. The first half of the miracle is that the saint will make your darkness visible in concrete form. The second half of the miracle is distressingly difficult and sometimes endless: the pilgrim has to find a way to deal with his own darkness before he is healed, with no help at all from the saint, the saint’s family, or anyone who loves a Soria. If the saint tries to help the pilgrim, his own darkness will come out, and a Soria’s darkness is much, much worse than any pilgrim’s.
Joaquin Soria and his cousin Beatriz run an AM radio station from the back of a box truck that has been abandoned in the desert. Their cousin, Daniel, is the current saint of Bicho Raro. Pete Wyatt is on his way to Bicho Raro, because he has been promised that he can work for the Sorias in exchange for a certain box truck. Unfortunately, Pete is bringing disaster along with him.
True confession: I have been a Maggie Stiefvater fan for years. If she writes it, I will read it. I had no idea how she could follow the spectacular success of her “Raven Cycle” series, but I can tell you now that she did it by changing gears completely. All the Crooked Saints is a love letter to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and all of the other South American writers for whom the veil between the rational world and the world of infinite possibilities is gossamer-thin. Stiefvater’s new work is soaked in magical realism, which means that I am all in from page one. However, the old-world feel of this 1960s story is also shot through with Maggie’s own sly, winking humor. Brilliantly conceived characters and a complex, desperate plot are told through a filter woven of Latino culture and the intricacies of a singular family legacy.
This novel will be available in October, 2017. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I read a signed advance reader copy of this book, which I obtained at SLJ’s Day of Dialog. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
Ava sets out to tell the story of how she, who was “just a girl,” happened to be born with a full set of wings. To truly tell the story, she has to go back three generations to her great-grandmother, Maman, who moved from France to “Manhatine” to follow her husband’s dream, and then to the story of her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Vivianne. Lucky in love these women were not. It seemed that they fell in love quite often, but rarely with the right man, and even then, once they had a child, he would either die or run away. So the women depended on one another and raised their children alone—at least on this plane of existence.
Ava and her foremothers eke out a living, running a bakery after they move into a lonely house with a strange history. Ava stays indoors almost all the time, just so that she can avoid other people’s sometimes startling reaction to her wings. While she is afraid that some people may hurt her because of her difference, others may be obsessed with her in a different way. All she wants to be is a regular girl.
Walton writes a story filled with magical realism. One of Emilienne’s sisters was completely in love with a musician who barely knew that she existed. Her love transformed her into a canary, hopeful that he would be enraptured by her music, but now he noticed her even less. Relatives who have died just might still be around, and the living may have powers that most people would call superstition. The lines between living and dead, reality and illusion, are gossamer-thin. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, but some of the situations are too mature for most teenagers. However, adults and older teens who love Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits will be enthralled with Ava Lavender.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.