Tag Archives: contemporary

She smells like roses

Never have a I read a book that alternated narrators so often. Some how keeping in chronological order and without confusion, the author writes this story through the eyes of four people. They alternate by chapter and include all the same people but entirely different perceptions and feelings.

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn: A Novel by Janis Hallowell. This book had me engrossed from the very beginning. The main character Francesca is an 8th grade girl who often times finds herself feeling completely alone. Her parents are divorced. Her dad and his girl friend have moved to Italy and her Mom is always away for work. She spends a lot of time at her neighbor, Ronnie’s, cafe with her best friend Sid.

So when a homeless man who frequents the cafe, Chester, has an epiphany and decides believes Francesca is the Blessed Virgin because she smells like roses; he deems himself her protector. Chester follows her every move and makes sure no one brings harm her way. It catches on that Francesca is special, soon people swarm around her wanting to be blessed, thinking she can perform miracles. It isn’t long before she begins to believe she may be the Virgin. The belief grows so strong that she even thinks she is carrying a child.

The devotion and admiration Francesca receives from these strangers begins to make her feel a part of something. She wants to please them, heal them and give them hope. Several people claim after being blessed by her they are healed of their afflictions.

Anne, Francesca’s Mom, finally comes home from being away at a site for work. She freaks out at what is happening to her daughter and blames Ronnie for letting things get so out of hand.

As the reader I wasn’t sure what to make of everything. I think a part of me wanted to believe she was the Blessed Virgin. But as the story grew on I realized most of what was happening was through her imagination. Francesca and everyone around her were searching for someone or something to make their lives better.

Anne took Francesca far away on a trip to a cabin after the crowd of devotees started getting out of control and at times violent. With time and medical counsel Francesca begins to see she is not a holy person, she is not pregnant and she is not alone.

The book was well written and insightful. There are other themes throughout the story, but you will have to read it for yourself. My only complaint is that I felt it was developing beautifully until the last few chapters. It is almost as if the author was rushing to get it done and she just abruptly ended the story. I suppose I needed some more closure for Francesca, but perhaps we are meant to think that through on our own.

Loss and survival

A couple days ago I finished “Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viramontes. It was a good, but challenging read for me because often the characters spoke in Spanish. And the dialogue was written in such a way that you had to follow carefully because it never said who was speaking.

I very much enjoyed the imagery in this book. You could visualize the sunsets, orchards and views of the old barn. You can just imagine the desolate home they live in, dusty and falling apart but the view from their window is gorgeous.

The main character is Estrella, she is 13 years old and the story is about her and her family. She meets a migrant worker in the fields, Alejo, and they fall in love with each other, though he is far more smitten from the start. It’s amusing to hear them talk to each other, she is stand-offish and independent. But it’s in the description of how they act towards each other that you see a bond developing. Upsettingly enough he grows very ill and while Estrella’s family takes him in to care for him they end up having to travel very far to a hospital and leave him. It’s touching and upsetting. Estrella doesn’t really know how to cope with it and even at the end of the book she sits alone in the barn and looks at the stars.

Estrella’s Mom, Petra, is pregnant and her husband, Perfecto, hasn’t been told, but he knows and he’s not happy about it. We aren’t told their ages, but it is clear that Perfecto is a great deal older…perhaps by even 25 years. He spends a lot of time weighing the option of staying with the family or running. It bothers me because no one calls him out on it, even though they see him struggling with the decision. This is probably because Estrella’s paternal father left them when she was very young and they don’t want to see it happen again.

Estrella’s younger brothers spend most of their time in the orchards picking fruit. It’s not clear if they are supposed to be in the orchards though because often times it seems they are running or hiding. It’s almost as if they go early in the morning, pick the fruit and then sell it. Even so the family never seems to have more than $9 in the home at any given time.

The title of the book is actually a different biblical reference than I anticipated. It is a reference to a statue where Petra prays, there is a serpent underneath the feet of Jesus. I believe this image further adds to the theme of commitment and courage in the story.

The story is filled with many struggles and obstacles. It is admirable how strong Estrella remains at her young age. She endures pain, extremely hot days, hard labor and she just keeps going. She is a brave young woman and the book was quite enjoyable.