CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 21. . . .February 4, 2011.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
246 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Ani is named for the patient and kind Saint Anne, and she tries to live up to this example, especially when her younger sister, Colette, exasperates her beyond her limits. The two girls couldn’t be more different. Ani is devout, conservative and careful while Colette is hyperactive, outgoing to the point of rudeness on occasion and not inclined to be religious. When their mother, Therese, is badly injured in a freak accident, each girl has her own way of coping with the tragedy. The people who come to her mother’s aid reveal things about Therese and her past which astound the girls and leave them rethinking just who they are.
Each of those poor souls has come to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre to pray for a miracle. Sometimes, when I’m walking on Avenue Royale, I feel hope hanging in the air like a living thing.
Every summer, religious pilgrims from around the world come to pray for Saint Anne’s help and to buy souvenirs from the row of shops like ours on Avenue Royale. Saint Anne is one of Quebec’s patron saints. Dad calls her the patron saint of lost causes. “Think of all the crippled people who come here,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Have you ever seen a single one miraculously cured?”
Mom hates Dad when he talks like that “What about all those crutches hanging on the basilica walls? Every single pair was left behind by someone who didn’t need them anymore! Besides,” she tells Dad, “if you don’t believe in miracles they’ll never happen.”
“In all my life, I only ever witnessed one miracle,” Dad likes to say to Mom. “And that was when a babe like you fell for a goofball like me.”
“The world’s sweetest goofball,” Mom’ll say.
I want to believe in miracles, really I do, but Dad’s got a point. I’ve heard of miraculous healings, but I’ve never seen one. Then again, Mom’s got a point too. Maybe if I believed more strongly, miracles would happen.”
Polak sets her novel in Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre, Quebec, a tiny town literally and figuratively in the shadow of the basilica and the Catholic faith. Pilgrims by the thousands visit in the hope of finding miracles, and the church’s display of old crutches is a testament to their faith. Readers will feel the chaos of the tourists and souvenir shops during the busy season as well as the peace and serenity within the basilica itself. Polak’s wonderful descriptions let readers sense the silence of the church and even smell the candles, giving an understanding of how devout pilgrims feel they can connect or reconnect to the divine.
The characters of Ani and Colette are interesting and true to life. Ani has always been accepting, but now, at 16, she finds reason to question her religion. She also has questions about romance, relationships and sex. Charlotte is annoying yet endearing, taking on life with her up-front and hands-on approach, often with unexpected and tough consequences. Their parents, their neighbour Marco, the local priests and the other townsfolk are all very real, and readers will feel they are truly part of this small community.
Polak takes on some difficult issues in this novel. The subjects of HIV/AIDS, premarital sex and teen pregnancy are themes which run though the book. On a more spiritual level, the characters ask themselves questions about miracles, about having hope in difficult circumstances and about what role, if any, religion can play in everyday life. Polak maintains a tone that is understanding and contemplative as she probes the questions, doubts and fears of many of the characters, both teen and adult, in her work. Thus the novel is an interplay of the serious, the comic and the divine.
Do we believe in miracles because they actually happen? Or do miracles happen because we believe they will? Just how does one define a ‘miracle’ anyway? Perhaps the ultimate miracle, as Ani says (page 244) is “not giving up. Maybe it’s staying hopeful even when you’re not sure how things will turn out.” If an actual trip to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre isn’t in your immediate plans, read Miracleville and stay tuned for the miracles which happen within the pages of this outstanding, dare I say heavenly, young adult novel!
Ann Ketcheson is a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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