Saints of the Household

Farrar. Mar. 2023. 320p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780374389499.
Gr 8 Up–A heartrending, contemporary debut novel about the repercussions of trauma and the healing power of family and art. Bribri American brothers Jay and Max (who are Indigenous Costa Rican) are reeling from the act of physical violence they perpetrated against the town’s beloved soccer star. When they witnessed Luca stepping angrily toward their cousin Nicole and forcefully grabbing her arm in the Minnesota woods, the brothers instinctively beat him up. They’ve experienced physical abuse at the hands of their father and witnessed him doing the same to their mother. Max finds refuge in his art and a budding romance, while Jay burrows deeply into himself, occasionally finding respite in Nicole and his grandfather, who shares his love of reading and nature. However, the brothers become estranged. The chapters in this ruminative, dual perspective work are short. Jay’s are written in prose vignettes; Max’s are done in spare free verse. Tison’s (Bribri) masterly economy of language—every word and even punctuation mark is chosen for a specific purpose—presents this compelling story of a family smashed to pieces by violence. The novel searingly depicts PTSD’s strong hold—how every aspect of life is dictated by the fear of where the next fist is going to land, and how living so deeply in that circle of pain permeates every aspect of one’s identity. Their problems aren’t solved, but the siblings find peace in their small victories. Nicole is Anishinaabe, and Luca has some Mexican heritage.
VERDICT Violence can be inherited but so can love and forgiveness. This vulnerable and magnetic tale of brotherhood belongs on every shelf.

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