One of the reasons I enjoy YA literature is because YA authors are willing to write about absolutely anything and everything. They are not self-conscious, they are not pretentious, they are not shy. What they are is brave. And inventive. And original. I mean, cyborg Cinderella? Check. Time-traveling pirates? Ahoy. Gender-bent Dracula origin story? Savage. It’s my firm belief that YA authors take full advantage of the fact that there are a lot of people out there who want to read stories that speak to their imagination – that make them feel wonder and confusion and atmosphere.
I recently sat down with the most recent release of an author I feel is one of the most unique currently writing in the genre. That is to say her books are straight up cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. They’re disorienting and magical and confusing, and represent all the best things about YA literature. And when I finished reading All the Crooked Saints the only thing I could think was: what must it be like to live in Maggie Stiefvater’s head?
The book is about – (waves hand vaguely in the air) – darkness and monsters and love and slightly creepy, miracle-hungry owls. It’s hard to pin down, really. The narrative is written in omniscient POV, which isn’t done a lot, and it took a little getting used to. I can’t begin to tell you how many times in the first fifty pages I just looked at this book and said, “It’s so WEIRD.” But a good weird, not a bad weird. And it took me a while to catch on to all the intricacies of the miracles and the anti-miracles (as I came to think of them), but once I did, I steamrolled ahead.
In all honesty, what kept me reading was the characters. The Soria family is wholly unique and individual, and unlike anything I’ve ever come across. In a way, they’re unrelatable because of their remarkable gift; on the other hand, it made me care about them all the more. They represent the best and worst aspects of humanity, in that they have the ability to work amazing miracles, but those miracles also call forth unimaginable darkness. And it’s worth mentioning that there are a lot of adults in this book – all of whose stories play an important role in the events of the book. That is something very different for a YA read. I liked it, and think it added richness to the overall tapestry of the narrative.
The story of the Sorias of Bicho Raro, Colorado, teaches lessons about people and humanity, and the miracles coupled with the inescapable darkness speak of deeper truths. But there is a shiny, glittery spark of hope here, too. Stiefvater does not crush all dreams (though she is completely capable of doing so). Individuals at the mercy of their darkness can choose to face that darkness, accept the truth of the part of their soul it represents, and banish it. In essence, if they are true to themselves, they are freed. What greater lesson can there be?
If you’re a Stiefvater fan, this one is a little different, even for her. Ye be warned. I even recall one particular tweet in which the author herself referred to this as “my weird little book”. Enough said.