Review Blog

Aug 03 2017

Saints for all occasions by Courtney Sullivan

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Fleet, 2017. ISBN 9781844089383
(Age: Senior secondary - Adults) Immigration. Families. Siblings. Irish/Americans. Catholic faith. Nuns. This family saga opens in 2009 with Nora Rafferty rushing to hospital to find her 50 year old eldest son Patrick has died in a car accident. One of the first things she does is to phone her estranged sister to let her share the grief. Nora and her sister Teresa left their small Irish village in the mid-1950s to join Nora's fiance Charlie in Boston. Nora is quiet, careful and protective of her younger, more outgoing sister and they settle in with other catholic Irish from their area. They find work and Teresa is also able to study to become a teacher. Teresa loves the new life, especially the freedom to go to dances and meet boys but she soon falls pregnant to a married man. Nora devises a plan where she and Charlie marry and pretend she is pregnant while Teresa goes to a Catholic home for unwed mothers. Instead of having to give up the baby, Patrick, to strangers, Nora and Charlie adopt him as their own and allow Teresa to live with them and have contact with her baby. It doesn't work out and Teresa leaves, goes to New York and gets a job teaching then eventually joins a cloistered order of nuns. Nora and Charlie go on to have three more children; she is strict with them but always has a soft spot for Patrick whose adoption is kept a secret, as is the existence of Teresa. The story switches between the preparations for the funeral, as the siblings reflect on their relationship with their brother and mother, interleaved with chapters going back looking at the family and convent life in the 60s and 70s.
Books about immigrant Irish in America are not new and there are echoes of Brooklyn to be found; but this is carefully constructed without melodrama looking at the interplay of culture and religion in generational change with people doing their best to live with the decisions they have made, never sure if they were right or wrong. Nora and Teresa make very different decisions in their lives but religion has helped sustain them both. It starts well but develops at a slower pace, more a book for adults but senior students could compare it with other Irish immigrant experiences like Angela's ashes or Brooklyn.
Sue Speck

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