by M. Wayne Cunningham
Han Nolan's newest of her five novels about young people searching for spiritual healing is an enthralling, inspirational and multifaceted story of two teenagers striving for moral purity amid the push-and-pull of dysfunctional families, disloyal friends and worldly distractions. There are two protagonists, the 14-year-old Archibald (or "Archie") Lee Caswell and the slightly older Clare Simpson, the fun-loving wannabe comicbook artist. Archie is the most unlikely of candidates for sainthood given his track record of delinquency since coming to live at his grandparents' farm after the accidental death of his parents. And it's especially difficult for him to accept his dying grandfather Silas's pronouncement, "Young man, you are a saint," when he's convinced that the old man's discovery of a secret that is still in the farmhouse basement contributed to his fatal heart attack. However, an unnerving meeting with Clare, at Silas's funeral, restores Archie's convictions. Clare convinces Archie that they are soul mates, she as St. Clare and he as St. Francis de Sales, and that both of them are destined for God's work whatever and wherever it may be.
But fulfilling their destiny, as Clare envisions it, takes more than Archie expected. First, he must undergo the rigours of day-long meditation; then he must give up the worldly pleasures of his beloved comic books and his mountain bicycle. He must accept his former best friend's desertion and and his mockery. And even grandmother Caswell, when she is hospitalized, must take second place to his and Clare's religious questing. As well, he must accommodate to Clare's clairvoyance, her repetitive mantras and prayerful humming, her mania for fasting, and her incomprehensibly forgiving attitude towards violence even as he battles two hooligans attempting to assault her. Most importantly, he must agree when Clare decides that they must travel to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art to live secretly in the Cloisters and devote themselves to God. And all the while he tries to understand why his relationship with his grandfather, who had been a prophet of sorts, went sour. He needs to understand why Clare is sometimes called "Doris", why she sometimes lives with her father, a seer who prefers reading people to reading palms, and why she has visits from her estranged mother who as Clare says, "checks my room and my closet and watches to see that I'm eating enough."
While Archie wrestles with his worldly demons and doubts in New York, Clare becomes more of an acetic, at times washing the feet of a beggar, at others telling Archie that God is speaking to her. She has the stigmata like Saint Catherine of Siena. She cries out to Archie while observing the tears of the crying Virgin, a miracle that eludes him although he is present. And the more he is torn to remain with Clare as she prays and starves herself daily in the seclusion of the Cloisters, the more his faith is tested and he feels pressured to return to his ailing grandmother's bedside. And in the end since it is well known that "God works in mysterious ways," it is quite conceivable that both Clare and Archie should achieve a peace of their own and finally find God in the way that Nolan depicts so well.