Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saint Training

As the oldest girl in a family of nine, twelve year old Mary Clare has a lot on her plate. First, she has to help her pregnant mother manage the household. Besides that, her father struggles to pay the bills…and Mary Clare has to deal with the fallout at school. Then there’s the Vietnam War, the source of numerous arguments between two of her brothers, one who wants to enlist and the other who wants to be a conscientious objector. Plus she has to grapple with a division in the Catholic Church over racial issues.

And to top it all off, Mary Clare’s frizzy hair won’t cooperate.

That’s why Mary Clare makes a bargain with God. If He will make her family happy and whole again, she will become a saint. The only problem? Mary Clare soon discovers that becoming a saint is neither a small nor an easy task.

Set in 1967, Saint Training, written by Elizabeth Fixmer, follows sixth grader Mary Clare O’Brian as she struggles to understand her faith, define her role in her family, and deal with fickle friends. The historical fiction novel opens with a heartfelt letter from Mary Clare to the Reverend Mother at the Good Shepherd convent. At key points throughout the story, Mary Clare either receives a response ripe with wisdom and encouragement from the Reverend Mother or writes another letter full of questions and speculation. Mary Clare’s journey is filled with honest soul-searching, sensitive political and religious issues, and normal teenage angst.

What I Like: The story is well-written with a strong , affable, and believable lead character. For example, though Mary Clare gives serious thought to big issues, she still worries about boys, popularity, and looks… just like my own middle-grader. In essence, it’s a coming of age story that does not shy away from asking some tough but thought-provoking questions: Why would God make someone pregnant and then take the baby away? Should I still talk to my friends about my Catholic faith, even when they don’t believe me? How can someone with religious beliefs justify war? How many sins can you have and still become a nun? For me, the best part about the book was how Mary Clare slowly came to understand and claim her family’s faith as her own.

What I Dislike: I am not very familiar with Catholic worship or practices, but I have several Catholic friends whose faith I greatly admire. However, at the beginning of the story, I did not feel like it painted the Catholic faith in a positive light. I was, in fact, a little dismayed by Mary Clare’s almost obsessive focus on sin. And Sister Agony acted mean and spiteful. That said, I appreciated the way Mary Clare matured in her understanding of God and faith and, indeed, the world. She struggled honestly with her questions and ended up in an admirable place.

Overall Rating: Very good

Age Appeal: 9-12 years

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, August 2010; ISBN: 978-0310720188; Hardcover $14.99

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Special info: Visit this author's website.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When my daughter, who wants to become a nun, found this book at the public library, she was so delighted. She brought it to me and when I saw the front cover, I immediately became suspicious; after all we were in a public library. I read just a bit about the author and realized this was not about being a good Catholic, but instead a Catholic who should adapt and accept modern society simply because it's modern. How disappointing that Catholics can't be orthodox and believe in their own religion.