Before reading Maggie Stiefvater’s latest novel, All the Crooked Saints, I knew it wasn’t a book I could accurately or fairly review. Prior to the its’ release, there was a lot of controversy over Stiefvater, a Caucasian author, writing a book steeped in Mexican folklore. Accusations of cultural appropriation began well before the book was published, and continue to arise. Unfortunately, I know very little about Latinx culture, thus I don’t feel informed enough to commentate on the allegedly problematic elements of All the Crooked Saints. After reading the book, I’ve attempted to do some research, but I’ve yet to find any reviews of the book written by Latinx readers (likely because it was only published about a week ago). There’s a lot of commentary from Latinx readers from before the release, some negative, some positive, but it’s mostly speculative, based on interviews and blurbs rather than actual content.
A significant amount of the controversy seems to stem from Stiefvater naming the town her novel is set in Bicho Raro. According to Stiefvater, the term translates roughly to “rare bug”, a phrase used to “speak fondly about odd people, like “strange bird” or “odd duck.” Others, however, have been quick to point out that the word bicho is also slang for penis. Some suggest that this gaffe means Stiefvater hasn’t done her research into Latinx culture properly. Others are more concerned with the books’ 1960’s setting, insinuating that Stiefvater may be unaware of the difficulties faced by those of Mexican – American people during this time (this is also discussed in the Twitter thread linked to in the previous paragraph).
Personally, my mind isn’t made up about this issue. Like I said, it’s not a topic I know a lot about. Though I am from a biracial background (my father was born in Myanmar, and my mother was born in England), I’ve spent very little time outside Australia and have had only minimal first hand experience with Latinx culture. Honestly, before reading this book, I’d never really considered how little I know, thus it’s definitely something I’d like to learn more about. (In fact, please tell me if you know of any Latinx authors I should check out!) For now, I’m keeping an open mind and am curious to see how discussion regarding cultural appropriation in All the Crooked Saints evolves once the book has been more widely read. As I said earlier, a lot of the opinions being expressed about this book are coming from people who haven’t actually read it.
Now that I’ve addressed the elephant in the room, I’ll move onto something I actually know a little bit about: Maggie Stiefvater’s writing. This is the tenth book of hers that I’ve read, and to be honest, it’s also the one I liked the least. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the book, I just didn’t find it as witty or engaging as her previous books. I did, however, love the lyrical, fairytale like quality of Stiefvater’s writing. It’s a fantastical book full of magic and descriptive prose, and it’s unlike anything I’ve read before.
Personally though, I think Steifvater’s style works a lot better for series than stand alone books like All the Crooked Saints. Her stories are very character driven and not particularly plot focused. Consequently, my enjoyment and interest in her books stems largely from how much I care about her characters. This works out favourably in a Stiefvater’s earlier work, Sinner, a book which only has two focal characters. Cole and Isabel of Sinner are both complex and beautifully written characters and I felt very invested in their journey after all the hardships the pair had been through in Linger and Forever. All the Crooked Saints, however, features a vast number of characters, most of whom get their own paragraph long backstory. The book is about the entire Soria family (though it does focus mainly on the three youngest members) and the many pilgrims who come to them in search of a miracle. While Sinner is an in depth look at two central characters, All the Crooked Saints offers more of a series of quick insights into a wide variety of characters. Ultimately, the book is only 311 pages long, and I don’t think I had enough time to form any kind of emotional attachment to the characters who were introduced. Thus, I can’t say I felt particularly connected to All the Crooked Saints, the way I did The Raven Cycle or The Wolves of Mercy Falls.
I said at the start of this post that this wasn’t going to be a review, and it does feel to me like more of a rambling collection of my thoughts, but I will still give it a rating. Though Stiefvater’s writing was beautiful and magical, I wish I had felt more emotionally attached to the characters, as this would have made me more invested in the story. It was a good book, it just didn’t make me feel anything. Thus I give it 3.5 / 5 stars.