all the crooked saints maggie stiefvater book review

All the Crooked Saints, Maggie Stiefvater: Book Review

Scholastic/Stephen Voss

A beautiful exploration of darkness.

All the Crooked Saints Book Cover All the Crooked Saints
Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult, Fantasy
October 10, 2017

Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Here’s a thing that everyone wants: more Maggie Stiefvater.

All the Crooked Saints showcases Maggie Stiefvater’s lyrical and atmospheric style of writing. In a small desert town in Colorado, wayward travelers seek out miracles by a family that is slowly falling apart.

This review contains quotes from the book.

Generations of the Soria family have lived and provided miracles in the community of Bicho Raro to pilgrims in need. Darkness manifests itself in strange forms and these miracles are anything but normal. The act of performing a miracle is two-fold and while most of the Soria family possesses the ability to perform miracles, only the Saint does so, which in this case, happens to be a teenage boy with a twisted past named Daniel. Miracles are not spectacular otherworldly events found in religion, but rather a physical manifestation of an individual’s darkness. In order to receive healing, pilgrims must face their darkness and overcome it on their own, for if any member of the Soria family provides help in slightest, their own darkness will manifest.

In order to overcome darkness it is necessary to find the light, and Maggie Stiefvater makes a brilliant case for religion, belief and spirituality in All the Crooked Saints. Despite being a novel that deals primarily with the idea of miracles, Stiefvater turns the generalized concept of a miracle on its head, introduces elements of magical realism, and dissects it with characters of different personality types. From logical and emotional perspectives, the ideas of religion, faith and spiritually are detailed beautifully and Stiefvater makes a case for subjectivity in a way that is very similar to what Haruki Murakami does in 1Q84 – everyone is entitled to their own opinion and worldview.

Is this science? Religion? It is difficult even for scientists and saints to tell the difference between the two. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. When you cultivate invisible seeds, you can’t expect everyone to agree on the shape of your invisible crops. It is wiser to simple acknowledge that they grow well together.

– excerpt from Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints

Elements of magical realism do more than make the concept of miracles more interesting – they provide an incredible amount of depth and backstory to even the smallest of characters. While it would have been easy for Stiefvater to simply develop the three main characters of the novel, cousins Beatriz, Joaquin and Daniel, she takes it one step further and provides backstory and dialogue for almost all of prominent members of the Soria family as well as a few unique pilgrims. What makes this a feat of strength is the fact that All the Crooked Saints is a standalone novel of only a little over 300 pages.

From aspiring radio personality Joaquin, ever-logical Beatriz, hard-working Pete and rose obsessed Francisco, to giant Tony, beautiful Marisita, and the snaked tied twins, every character in All the Crooked Saints is unique. Furthermore, they all have a say. Throughout the course of the novel, the perspective shifts between different members of the community, Soria family and pilgrims alike, providing a stunning amount of depth to the characters, history and setting. From snippets of each characters wants and fears, to glimpses of conversations around Bicho Raro, Stiefvater pulls you in and makes you wish that you were a part the dysfunctional, yet growing community of the small desert town.

Rich histories color the pilgrims, who are initially seen as burdensome due to the inability to overcome their individual darkness. From Marisita’s personal rainstorm and drenched wedding dress laden with butterflies that have lost their ability to fly due to the constant downpour, to Jennie, a woman who can only repeat what has been said to her, each and every pilgrim is tasked with overcoming a unique challenge posed by darkness as a result of their flaws. As the tiny community begins to interact with one another, miracles begin to happen demonstrating that light can be found even in the darkest of times.

All the Crooked Saints is so different from Maggie Stiefvater’s other novels. While I believe that Stiefvater is an incredible writer, her talent really shines due to the captivating warmth and complexity that goes into the smallest details regarding character and setting.

The kind of desert that is located in the corner of Colorado is a hard one. It is not the painted rocks and elegant cactus pillars one finds father southwest, not is it the secretive pine-furred mountains and valleys of the rest of Colorado. It is barren scrub and yellow dust, and blue-tinged, sharp-teethed mountains in the distance that want to have nothing to do with you.

Pete fell deeply in love with it.

– excerpt from Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints

Not only does Stiefvater manage to capture the scenery of the desert, but she describes the feelings that we associate with particular places and scenes without knowing why.

Love, whether it be for a person, place or thing is also captured beautifully in All the Crooked Saints. And while I live off of cute, romantic and touching scenes that others many find cliché, Maggie Stiefvater captures the feelings that accompany first love in mesmerizing detail, even if they are only meaningful for the characters involved.

He smiled is a good line for almost any kind of story. Beatriz found she liked the way he looked: sturdy and true, responsible and square. The night had left his white t-shirt dirtier than it had begun, and his neatly combed hair was no longer quite so neat – but it had only served to wear down the outer layer of kindness to reveal that there was only more kindness beneath. She smiled.

– excerpt from Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel, however, was the inclusion of character wants and fears. Although these lines seem very straightforward and simple, they capture each character in perfect detail and there is something magical about that.

Here was a thing that Beatriz wanted: to devote time to understanding how a butterfly was similar to a galaxy.

Here was a thing that Beatriz feared: being asked to do anything else.

– excerpt from Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints

While the plot is not incredibly complex, Stiefvater touches on so many different themes and topics – family, first love, community, identity, and spirituality just to name a few. If anything, All the Crooked Saints is about recognizing who you are, not only as an individual, but as a community. As much as you might want to do things on your own, sometimes you need help from others.

All in all, All the Crooked Saints was a complex exploration of character, and while it was lacking in some areas, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have you read All the Crooked Saints?

Share your thoughts on Maggie Stiefvater’s latest release in the comments below!

Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.