Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

a bookclique pick by Lindsey Mead

Saints for All Occasions is a beautiful book about family, love, and home.  It is about where we came from shapes who we are, no matter how far we go and what happens to us.  We meet Nora, who is the book’s beating heart and maternal figure, on the first page, set in 2009. Quickly the book spools back in time, to Nora’s girlhood in Ireland.  We learn of her arduous trip to the United States with her younger sister Theresa, of her marriage to Charlie, a boy from her home town, of the family of four children they raise together. Nora is a mother, writ large.  Her own mother died when she was seven, and rapidly Nora became the maternal figure in her family.  She mothered her brother and father before she left Ireland and continues to mother Theresa after they arrive in America.   When an unmarried, teenage Theresa finds herself pregnant, Nora steps in and becomes a mother to that child, too. As Nora settles into adulthood and has more children, Theresa takes a different path and becomes a nun.  We get to know Nora’s four adult children, Patrick, John, Bridget and Brian.  We learn about a deeply buried and incompletely understood secret that festers, unresolved, between Patrick and another man from their old neighborhood in Dorchester (one of the book’s many, many gorgeous images that haven’t left me is of John’s fancy new SUV with an OFD – originally from Dorchester – bumper sticker on the back). Patrick, John, Bridget, and Brian each have their own storyline, and each speak to the many ways that families can be made, to all the ways that love and loyalty limn our lives. We can’t run away from where we came from, is the lesson of that bumper sticker and of Saints for All Occasions in general.  Nora and Theresa’s relationship has been estranged for years, but a sudden death in the family brings her back to Boston, to look Nora, surrounded by her own children, in the eye. In Saints for All Occasions’ lambent, lovely last scene, through its literal open door, we see forgiveness and redemption, even though we understand that life’s choices are sometimes forever.

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