Summary and book reviews of The Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar

The Saints and Sinners of Okay County

by Dayna Dunbar

The Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar X
The Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2005, 336 pages

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Book Summary

A funny and poignant first novel about a woman struggling to liberate herself in small-town America.

In the tradition of Fannie Flagg and Lorna Landvik, The Saints and Sinners of Okay County is a heartfelt and compelling debut novel with an unforgettable heroine. It's the story of a woman whose ability to see the futures of others leads her right back into her own troubled past.

It's the summer of 1976, and it seems like the entire state of Oklahoma is celebrating America's bicentennial. But in the small town of Okay, Aletta Honor has much more on her mind than flags and fireworks. She's pregnant with her fourth child and hasn't seen her husband, Jimmy, in weeks. Although she can guess where the hound dog has parked his red-white-and-blue van—in front of the local gin mill or outside the home of yet another woman for a little Yankee Doodle Diddle. Discretion is not in the man's constitution.

Flat broke and desperate for some cash, Aletta decides to set up a food stand on the front lawn during the Okay Czech Festival. But when a woman touches her hand in sympathy, Aletta is completely unsettled. She never touches anyone outside her family—if she does, she gets overwhelming visions of their lives and futures. It started when she was a young girl and has scared her ever since. Now Aletta immediately sees the woman in a tragic accident, and gives her a warning that will save her life. When the woman returns the next day to thank her, Aletta figures out how to save her own life.

With all the courage she can muster—figuring the townsfolk will most likely think she's nuts—she puts a sign in the front yard:


ALETTA HONOR. PSYCHIC READER. DROP-INS WELCOME.


But doing readings for people opens a door she thought she had locked long ago, as memories of a terrible event come flooding back. She may not be able to see into her future, but she realizes she must face the demons in her past if she's going to make a new life for herself and her kids. First, though, she'll have to tell a few fortunes. . . .

Poignant, touching, and full of the kind of wisdom that can only come straight out of the heartland, Dayna Dunbar's The Saints and Sinners of Okay County is a wonderful novel of a woman who confronts pain in order to reclaim her belief in herself, lay her past to rest, and bring order back to a life that has veered too far off track.

Chapter One

By the time Aletta realized the bitter smell drifting out her front door was burning kolaches, it'd been too late to save them. Inside the house, two sheets of blackened fruit-topped pastries emerged from the veil of thick smoke like a magic trick. She plunked herself down on a bar stool, a dish towel still dangling from her fingers, and watched wisps of smoke rise off the kolaches. She couldn't help but draw unkind comparisons to her own life—singed beyond recognition, stinking to heaven's pearly gates, and most likely irretrievable. The kolaches had been a shot at making a little cash, but this was the third batch she'd ruined, the first dying from a baking powder overdose. She still wasn't sure what had gone wrong with the second.

Outside, the Okay Czech Festival paraded right in front of her house on Main Street. The yearly summer festival caused the population of Okay, Oklahoma, to swell from five thousand folks just getting by to forty...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think the author set her novel in 1976? Are there parallels between the history of the United States and the life of Aletta Honor?

  2. Does Aletta do the right thing when she uses her psychic powers to blackmail Reverend Taylor of the Burning Bush Battle Church into leaving her alone? Is she right to cooperate in his face-saving lie afterward, and to keep his visits to prostitutes a secret?

  3. Flash forward twenty-eight years from the end of Saints and Sinners. It's now 2004 in Okay County. How have things changed for the fictional county and the characters of the novel?

  4. Do you believe in psychic powers? Have you had any psychic or supernatural experiences in your life? Do you think that such powers, if they exist, ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Library Journal - Rebecca S. Kelm
Purchase if there's demand for feel-good novels about ordinary women handling serious problems and relationships with little apparent trauma.

Kirkus Reviews
A very appealing debut from Dunbar, an Oklahoma native, whose tough-minded tenderness and authentic voice make the most of a slight plot.

Booklist - Meredith Parets
Dunbar's novel is both sensitively written and absorbing. Tough, self-effacing Aletta is an appealing heroine, and Dunbar's careful and understated writing keeps her novel from becoming a generic story of small-town female grit....This is an impressive first novel, with a warmhearted and tough heroine.

Publishers Weekly
Dunbar's no-frills writing style, engaging pacing and cast of kooky saints and sinners make Aletta's unconventional story about taking control of her life a pleasant, all-too-rapid read.

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Beyond the Book

Dayna Dunbar is a native Oklahoman who currently makes her home in Los Angeles. She has written screenplays and was part of the production team for the 1996 film William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Communications from the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico and a Master's degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica in California.

When asked whether her first novel is autobiographical, ...

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