Antonia Lucia Labella only wants one thing in this world: to be the first living Patron Saint. Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly the ONLY thing she wants. She would also be pretty happy to get her first kiss, preferably from smolderingly handsome Andy Rotellini. And she’d like it if her mother would get off her back about her clothes, and maybe let her go out on a date once in a while. And… ok, so there are a lot of things that Antonia wants. But being a saint is first among the many.
While the YA heroine with a quirky obsession is an enormously overused trope in YA literature, Antonia felt very real. I think this is partly because her infatuation with sainthood is woven into all facets of her life. You can see the roots of her interest in the saints in her interactions with her mother and grandmother, in her stories about her father, and in her own strong faith.
Catholicism is so central to her life that it is not surprising that she would look for ways to make it a more active force in her life. She does this through her regular petitions to the saints for intercession in her day-to-day life, but also through her letters to the Vatican in hopes of becoming a living saint. Through her petitions for sainthood, Antonia tries to make herself an active participant in her religion. Antonia’s letters to the Vatican are very funny and very heartfelt:
I am writing to inform you of a grave oversight in the area of patron saint specialization, to replace my earlier letter this month about a Patron Saint of People Who Make Pasta… But there are even more pressing matters at hand than pasta. dire even! Like the fact that, as yet, there is no Patron Saint of the Kiss, and, to be more specific, the First Kiss! I ask you: How is this possible? Young Catholic girls and boys everywhere are in DANGER, not only because of the Vatican’s general need of a reality check in all matters teen-related (I mean, can you be more out of touch about us? Please!), but specifically with regard to your total lack of foresight in the area of kissing. Let me tell you what happens when there is no Patron Saint of Kissing, especially for us kissing virgins. I mean, not that I am one or anything – I’ve kissed plenty of boys in my day. Though, not to say that I overdo it either – I don’t want you to think I’m unchaste or something – but anyway. As a result of this deficiency, teenagers, who shall remain nameless to protect their identity, might possibly be praying to saints whose specialization is not kissing, and sources tell me that when this happens, it’s like intercessions gone haywire! (pages 175-176)
Her letters are completely charming, and they make me hope that there’s someone opening letters at the Vatican who really appreciates them.
I loved that the book, like Antonia, was genuinely open to the possibility that miracles happen in life. Antonia’s petitions to the saints are regularly granted – although not always in the way that she would like. And there is a very small subplot that leads the reader to believe that Antonia herself is capable of miracles – could she really be on her way to sainthood?
For Antonia, the Saints are “a virtual Rolodex of thousands of men and women to call upon for help in very specific situations, and not just Jesus, who I see as an abyss of possibilities. With Jesus, you never know what you are going to get, if he was busy or just not interested in your little dilemma and ignoring you. But with the Saints! At least with them you have everything narrowed down. Like, if I thought I might be coming down with strep, a little word to St. Ethelrelda, , Patron Saint Against Throat Diseases, and I’d be good to go” (pg. 36). In case any of you are in need of intercession, I thought I would share a few potentially useful Saints.
Saint Jerome, Patron Saint of libraries and librarians
Saint John of God, Patron Saint of book sellers and publishers
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Patron Saint of teenagers
I highly suggest taking a peek through this massive directory of Patron Saint Specializations – and if you don’t find the Saint you need, maybe you should recommend Antonia for the job.
Donna Freitas’ on the web
The Possibilities of Sainthood on the web