You’ve heard the old cliché ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? We all have. And sometimes we judge books based on preconceived notions of what we’ll find when we open the covers.
I suppose everybody agrees that books need to be categorised so that people can find fiction that’s of interest to them. I like SF and crime, so they are the labels I look for in the bookstore, and on line. But many books fit more than one category. For instance, Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey series is always found in science fiction. But Elijah Bailey is a working detective solving crimes. The setting is SF, and because of that solving the crime is a little bit different. But I think most crime readers would enjoy the three Elijah Bailey books – if they could get past the SF preconceptions.
That’s the issue with the book I’m going to talk about – Roman: Saints and Sinners.
The main character is a teenage girl, so the immediate assumption is that the book is aimed at YA (Young Adult, ie older teens). It’s not. Older teens would probably enjoy it, but it’s an adult book with supernatural elements. There is no conceivable reason why adults would not enjoy this book. I certainly did, and I was in my late teens half a century ago. (Wow) Indeed, I can cite a few examples where YA supernatural crosses over to adult readers. Have you read Harry Potter? Yep, so have I, several times. And the first couple of stories were children’s books. What about the Twilight series? Not my cup of tea but lots of women loved it. Then there’s Anne McCaffrey’s Pern stories, Dragondrums, Dragonsong, Dragon Singer. All YA with dragons. Or the incomparable Terry Pratchett, with his Tiffany Aching series, the Bromeliad trilogy, Johnny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb etc. I’ve read them all. (Except Twilight. I have standards.)
So please consider this book, if not for yourself, for somebody who has an interest. There are no vampires or dragons.
Here’s the blurb
With the death of her cold-hearted mother, TJ faces life in a decaying town with a father she barely knows. From a future bright with promise to one stripped of everything she’s worked so hard to achieve, TJ needs more than luck in her corner.
Roman is trouble, pure and simple—at least that’s what everyone keeps telling her. He’s a juvenile delinquent with sealed records and a suspicious link to the town’s tragic past, but despite all warnings, TJ can’t ignore his dark pull.
In a coal mining town where lives were once shattered beyond repair, a new evil surfaces, forging strange alliances as both believers and skeptics alike face the inexplicable to save their livelihood, their families and even their faith.
Some secrets are worth keeping, some secrets must find the light of day, but in the end…
some secrets you take to the grave, no matter what the cost.
Here’s my review.
This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.
It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.
And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen-year-old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.
In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.
The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.
The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.
I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not.