BookBrowse Reviews The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Possibilities of Sainthood

by Donna Freitas

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas X
The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 280 pages
    Aug 2010, 304 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry
Buy This Book

About this Book



Young Adult: Grandmothers, mothers and daughters will enjoy sharing this comic story of a miraculous first romance

Fifteen year old Antonia Lucia Labella is sweet, funny and ambitious. She's eager to shake up the Vatican, and ready to be touched (literally) by love. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters will enjoy sharing this comic story of a miraculous first romance.

Antonia lives with her widowed mother and her grandmother above the family's grocery store and attends an all-girl Catholic school in an Italian neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island. The Labellas and their neighbors are devout Catholics, and their days are full of prayers, blessings, celebrations and petitions to an attentive assembly of specialized saints ready to help them when they are forgetful, sick, unlucky, or unloved. On the first-person novel's first page (dated November 1, All Saint's Day), Freitas establishes that, to Antonia, these saints are robustly real. When Antonia prays to St. Sebastian, she prays to a "sexy," " ... familiar boy [with a] beautiful, muscular body" – even the heavenly can be hot.

The continuous and palpable presence of these saints explains why Antonia doesn't just pray to them. She studies their musty histories in her school library and compiles thick notebooks each year that she calls "Saint Diaries." An expert hagiographer, Antonia knows that no problem is too small to merit a petition and she knows, too, exactly which saint is right for fixing a particular problem. She knows that St. Valentine is no longer an official Catholic saint and that St. Ethelreda is secure in her position as Patron Saint Against Throat Diseases. When her mother disapproves of her bare legs and too-short plaid school uniform skirt, Antonia calls upon St. Denis to smooth things over:

"I sat down with a huff in an old wooden chair to put on my green socks. Anything to get Mom off my back and myself out the door. I said a quick prayer to St. Denis, the Patron Saint Against Strife and Headaches, for added assistance (who, incidentally, is usually portrayed holding his head in his hands because he was, well, beheaded, and therefore the perfect poster boy for people worrying about headaches.)"

Antonia faces life secure in the knowledge that an army of heavenly helpers is available 24/7 to those who petition them. Yet Antonia insists that she isn't "... some sort of religious freak... despite all [her] praying to saints and talking about them every other minute and expounding on their specializations..." Freitas makes sure that Antonia's obsession, though weird, is cheerful. Antonia rarely meditates on the extremity of the saints' virtues, their sufferings or their martyrdoms. To Antonia, "Saints. . . are simply the height of Catholic sophistication," "as cool as royalty."

Although zealous, Antonia's quest for sainthood is more secular job search than unearthly trial. She discovers unoccupied heavenly niches (first offering herself to the Vatican as the Patron Saint of Figs and Fig Trees, then as the Patron Saint of The First Kiss), then offers, through a series of very casual letters to the Pope, to take on the jobs. Antonia knows, but doesn't dwell on the requirement that before beatification (which she often jokes is "beautification") or canonization can take place, two miracles must be performed and the wannabe saint must "achieve great public renown [sic]." She also knows, but ignores, the requirement that in order to achieve sainthood, one must be dead.

Antonia's striving for holiness has more to do with upward mobility than with goodness, self-improvement or self-realization. She explains that her desire for sainthood began when her father, who died a few weeks later in a car accident, gave her a Saint Diary for her seventh birthday inscribed, ‘To my little Antonia, the Patron Saint of Daddy's Heart." Yet we learn very little about her father in the novel (All Antonia says about his death is, "Yeah, it was pretty devastating."). Perhaps that is why Freitas never succeeds in making plausible Antonia's quest to become the first living saint in the history of the Catholic Church, and why this conceit at times diminishes Antonia's narrative: Not once does Antonia question her faith or the beliefs she's inherited or deeply explore the meaning of sainthood.

Freitas is freshest and most interesting when writing about people who aren't Italian and issues that are not related to Catholic saints. The Italians here are painfully stereotypical: Antonia's mother has been a widow for eight years but still dresses in black. She's an amazing maker of homemade pasta and all other Italian foods; she's over emotional, loud, and expresses her love with food.

Antonia-the-teenager is finely drawn. She has an earthy liveliness, an amusing lack of self-knowledge, a distinct voice and a charming yearning for experiencing life, especially a perfect first kiss. Everything connected to Antonia's desire to be kissed, her intuition of what a first kiss means and should be, her fear of that kiss, her dreams of that kiss, and her experience of that kiss, is funny and entertaining. Andy Rotelli, the laconic boy on whom she has a crush, and Michael, the complicated, flirty friend who would become her boyfriend, are also memorable and believable characters.

It is no accident that the closer Antonia comes to experiencing The Kiss, (by both letting it happen and helping to make it happen), the less often she petitions the Saints for assistance. Antonia is coming of age, becoming independent, and taking risks. Still, Freitas fills Antonia's story with miracles: Antonia's kiss has the power to instantly heal the cuts and bruises suffered by two children. And, after a peck on the cheek from Antonia, a woman crippled for twenty years with arthritis walks again. The neighborhood buzzes with news of Antonia's powers, but somehow Antonia is unaware of the effect she has on people or what is being said about her. I'm not sure Freitas needed to suspend the laws of nature and include miracles of the strictly religious and extravagant sort. The Labella's fig trees, Antonia's youthful energy, the generosity of her friends, her mother's love and fresh pasta, and, of course, her first kiss, are miraculous enough.

Reviewed by Jo Perry

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2009, and has been updated for the September 2010 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Contemporary Saints

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch
    Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch
    by Rivka Galchen
    Rivka Galchen's novel Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is a historical fiction tale set in the ...
  • Book Jacket: Paradise, Nevada
    Paradise, Nevada
    by Dario Diofebi
    In Dario Diofebi's novel Paradise, Nevada, the neon allure of Las Vegas is pulled back to reveal ...
  • Book Jacket: Things We Lost to the Water
    Things We Lost to the Water
    by Eric Nguyen
    Spanning over 30 years, Eric Nguyen's debut novel Things We Lost to the Water is epic in scope but ...
  • Book Jacket: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
    The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
    by Dawnie Walton
    Within the general arc of many well-established and chronicled historical events is oral history's ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
by Jennifer Saint
A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    At the Chinese Table
    by Carolyn Phillips

    Part memoir of life in Taiwan, part love story—A beautifully told account of China's cuisines with recipes.

  • Book Jacket

    Morningside Heights
    by Joshua Henkin

    A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Win This Book!
Win Together We Will Go

Together We Will Go
by J. Michael Straczynski

A novel as much about the will to live as the choice to end it.



Solve this clue:

C T T Chase

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.