As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, our writers have accepted the challenge of reading and reviewing pre-publication review copies of highly anticipated young adult literature. The reviews are posted here for our readers, but also will be sent to the Book House where they will hopefully be used to inform customers about the books they may want to purchase.We will try to publish one review a week for the spring.
The reviews contain spoilers, so be forewarned!
The Head of the Saint
by Socorro Acioli
Published March 8, 2016
179 pages, Delacorte Press (division of Penguin Random House LLC)
The book The Head of the Saint, by Socorro Acioli, is a text created skillfully and adeptly. In its short plot, the novel conveys numerous important messages, and Acioli creates and develops some deep, complex characters. As a reader, you feel very close to the story because of the way it is written and organized. It is a quick and rather easy read, but devoting time to the text allows one to notice some weighty concepts. Though it seems to be a relatively short and simple book about a small Brazilian town, the major themes that it communicates are important to keep in mind everywhere in the world: being patient, doing what’s right, and accepting the help of others will ultimately allow you to achieve your goals.
The Head of the Saint is the story of events surrounding a fourteen year-old boy named Samuel in the small Brazilian town of Candeia. After his mother’s death, young Samuel travels to Candeia to find his paternal grandmother and his estranged father. This small village has very little to it; it is desolate and very run-down. The town’s one unique feature is an enormous statue of Saint Anthony, but the head of the statue is on the ground beneath the body. After finding his grandmother and being driven away, Samuel finds shelter in the empty statue head. In this forgotten head, Samuel has a great power; he can hear the wishes and longings of women in the village who are praying to Saint Anthony to find love. With the help of his new friend Francisco, he helps to answer the prayers he hears by acting as a matchmaker and setting up marriages amongst the villagers. And, most importantly, Samuel can hear a beautiful voice singing every day at five in the morning and five in the evening; his desire to find the owner of this beautiful voice becomes a driving force throughout the rest of the novel.
Talk of Samuel and his miracles spreads quickly once he successfully sets up couples, and he gains a lot of fame. Countless individuals move to the village of Candeia and the town is rejuvenated. Towards the end, the reader learns a great deal more about the history of Candeia, the history of Samuel’s family, and how they are connected. It is revealed that Osorio, the town’s mayor who has disappeared, is guilty of large-scale embezzlement; he stole money from the town for his own personal use. He took this money and departed right after a great failure in Candeia: an engineering error that caused the head of Saint Anthony’s statue to remain at its feet. This error was made by a man nicknamed Meticuloso, who eventually is revealed to be Samuel’s father. Mayor Osorio returns to kick Samuel out of his town; the mayor plans to clear the town and sell the land for his own personal gain, and Samuel’s “miracles” are drawing more people to the region and making it more difficult for the mayor to achieve his goal.
As Samuel leaves, he runs into his father, who he thought was dead. He forgives his father and releases, for the most part, the anger that he held onto for his entire life. Instead, he pities his old, weak father. Finally, he leaves Candeia. In the neighboring town, Caninde, Samuel encounters relatives of a woman for whom he set up a marriage; they introduce him to the owner of the singing voice: a beautiful young girl named Rosario. This final encounter ends the novel: “for the first time, things were beginning to make sense” (179).
The organization and presentation of this story in The Head of the Saint causes it to be wildly captivating to the reader. More and more information is revealed as the story continues, and multiple flashbacks provide background that make the characters deeper and more complex. This gradual uncovering of the connections between the characters creates an intriguing and fascinating plot line. For example, the father of Samuel’s friend Francisco used to be very close friends with Samuel’s father. He is the one who reunites the father and son: “Samuel, it’s your father! It’s your father, Manoel Meticuloso!” (158)
Another reason why this short novel greatly impressed me is because I achieved a certain proximity to some of the characters in the novel, and I was able to see them grow and change over the course of the book. Samuel, for example, learns numerous lessons during his time in Candeia. He is truly a dynamic character that grows and changes as he becomes older. In the beginning, for example, he is very angry at his father for leaving him and his mother by themselves for his entire life. But when he finally meets him, his psychological development and maturity is apparent because he is able to forgive his father and release a lot of the anger he held. Although “it wasn’t a reunion-there was no question of love,” Samuel is glad to be able to meet his father, and feels pity rather than hatred (159).
This novel puts forth a number of concrete lessons; the reader can take away a lot from the central themes of this book. For example, the text suggests that good things come to those who are patient and do the right thing. Throughout the novel, Samuel tries to find the owner of the beautiful singing voice he hears every day. Ultimately, he is able to meet Rosario because he helped people find happiness in Candeia: “You helped my sister get married, young man . . . I’m a friend and I’ve something to tell you. Something you need to know before you leave. It’s about Rosario” (177). He patiently waits and never stops trying to find this girl. Another central theme is the idea that success will only come with the help of those around you. Samuel’s final happy ending would not have occurred if he hadn’t accepted the help of his friend Francisco, who helped in arranging Samuel’s “miracles.” And his complete psychological development wouldn’t be evident and arguably wouldn’t have come about if he had ignored his grandmother’s advice. “Don’t forget to pray,” she told him (150). When he takes her advice and prays for the first time in his life, he can verbally release his anger and frustration spiritually, and he emerges a more mature character, in my opinion.
This novel succeeded in making me think about how its themes apply to my life and the world on a larger scale. The subject of the book was an interesting but, in my opinion, very successful choice. Although a small, impoverished village in Brazil seems very remote and not directly related to lives in our society, the ideas that we need others to succeed, that patience is important, and that helping others will, in return, help us apply very directly to life under any circumstances. The Head of the Saint is a well-written and captivating text, and anyone who reads it, no matter where they are in their life, will learn something.