The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla
ISBN: 9780544146242 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780544133488 (ebook)
ASIN: B00E78IB0C (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Mariner (Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt)
Born in Sweetwater, West Virginia, with a mop of flaming red hair and a map of the world rendered in port-wine stains on every surface of her body, Garnet Ferrari is used to being an outcast. With her sharp tongue, she has always known how to defend herself against bullies and aggressors, but she finds she is less adept at fending off the pilgrims who have set up a veritable tent city outside her hilltop home, convinced that she is Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and maker of miracles.
Her grandmother, the indelible Nonna Diamante, believes that Garnet’s mystical gift can be traced back to the family’s origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, and now the Vatican has sent an emissary to Sweetwater to investigate. Garnet, wanting nothing more than to debunk this “gift” and send these desperate souls packing, reaches back into her family’s tangled past and unspools for the Church a tale of love triangles on the shores of the Messina Strait; a sad, beautiful maiden’s gilded-cage childhood in blueblood Virginia; and the angelic, doomed boy Garnet could not protect.
Saint or not, Garnet learns that the line between reality and myth is always blurred, and that the aspects of ourselves we are most ashamed of can prove to be the source of our greatest strength, and even our salvation.
Garnet Ferrari is the object of either extreme prejudice or adoration in her hometown of Sweetwater, West Virginia. To most of the children in town and some of the parents, she is feared and hated because she is different. To the nonnas (Italian grandmothers) and a few others, she is adored for her mystical healing powers. Although Garnet’s childhood isn’t ideal it is filled with family and love, but all of that quickly changes with one traumatic incident quickly followed by a horrific accident that devastates the entire Ferrari family.
The Patron Saint of Ugly is a fast-paced read about love, survival, and hope. All Garnet, indeed any of the women married into the Ferrari family, want is to be loved. Garnet spends the beginning of her childhood being tortured by the ugly taunts of others. She spends her adolescence and early adulthood striving to be overlooked. It isn’t until she returns to Sweetwater as an adult that she seems to overcome the struggle of being perceived as “normal.”
The Patron Saint of Ugly evoked a lot of responses from me while I was reading: sadness, empathy, sympathy, and laughter. Garnet’s nonna was the source of much of that laughter with her machinations during Garnet’s childhood and adulthood. Much of the story takes place in either Italy in the early 1920s, West Virginia in the 1950s, early 1960s, and mid 1970s. Ms. Manilla’s characters are either extremely lovable or despised. I don’t think any reader will like Garnet’s grandfather, maternal grandmother, or La Strega (no, I’m not going to tell you who La Strega is . . . read the book). Garnet’s story is gradually revealed in a series of taped reminiscences for the Vatican, as she attempts to debunk her so-called healing gifts. It is in these narrations that we learn the back-stories for her nonna and mother, as well as learning about Garnet’s inner longings and desires. If you enjoy reading well-crafted fiction that combines humor, a quest for survival, a longing for normality, mythic origins, and a touch of magic, then The Patron Saint of Ugly is one story you have to read.
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