Bones of a Saint
RJ Armante, 15, lives in a rundown trailer park in 1978 California, oldest child of a single working mother. It’s summer, and while his mother’s at work, RJ takes care of his younger siblings, children of different fathers. In his scarce free time, he enjoys being around his Mexican-American friend Manny’s extended family. Manny’s grandmother predicts that RJ faces a summer of evil, which comes true when the local Blackjack gang pressures RJ into vandalizing a formerly vacant house which the gang used as a hangout and has been bought by a mysterious old man, Leguin. But Leguin catches RJ and makes him clean up the damage, and then strangely requests RJ tell him a story about his childhood. He and the old man become friends, of a sort. But RJ finds that giving in to the Blackjacks once won’t make them leave him alone. As his last option, he proposes to Ace, the Blackjacks’ leader, that if RJ performs a dangerous stunt, Ace will leave him, his family, and Leguin alone. The consequences include two shocking revelations about RJ’s family’s past.
If you don’t mind stories that leave you with unanswered questions, such as the fate of an important character, then you will like that aspect of Bones of a Saint. While I don’t want to be spoon-fed as a reader, I wasn’t quite satisfied at the end, because of a feeling of being left hanging. I puzzled over characters’ motives and asked myself “Why?” a few times. Characterizations are subservient to the themes of storytelling, Catholic symbolism, and the desert rural California atmosphere. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about the book despite the unanswered questions. Recommended to young adult readers who don’t require neatly-tied-up plots and who like stories that make you think.