Author: Han Nolan
Hardcover, 291 pages
Date Published: 2003
Description (Taken from Goodreads)
Han Nolan spins a tale of religious fervor and adolescent searching in When We Were Saints, a compelling novel that allows readers to draw their own conclusions. The story centers on Archie Caswell, a 14-year-old southern boy whose best friend has recently moved away and whose grandfather has just died. Archie is awash in guilt over the circumstances of his granddaddy's passing, but he's equally troubled by the old man's deathbed prophecy.
Enter Clare Simmons, a mysterious girl who fully believes she and Archie are modern-day saints. Abandoned by his former confidant and desperate for answers, Archie gets swept up in Clare's appealing certainty--eventually following her all the way to New York City on a risky pilgrimage to see a crying statue of the Virgin Mary.
Nolan writes convincingly about personal struggles with faith--Archie is at times a blissful believer, at others plagued with doubt. In either state, Nolan helps us understand exactly why the young man feels the way he does. In the end, we join Archie in wondering if Clare is mentally ill, or if she does in fact have a direct line to a higher power. A captivating read, especially for teens trying to find their own way in the domain of religion and spirituality. (Ages 13 and older) --Brangien Davis
When We Were Saints is the story of Archibald Lee Caswell, your everyday, average 14 year old boy, who goes on a pilgrimage to become a saint. Archie’s life drastically changes the day his grandfather Silas, an old prophet, dies and tells Archie he is a saint. The day of the funeral, a young girl comes up to Archie and hands him a card that basically says the same thing. Clare Simpson, the girl from the funeral is a very religious 15 year old who convinces Archie that he truly is saintly and that the two of them are soul mates. From there, Archie goes on a journey to find God and become the saint he believes he is destined to be.
This book was a rollercoaster of a ride for me. There isn’t a lot of action or crazy things happening, but it truly made me think. Archie’s journey to sainthood is moving and made me think about religion in an entirely different way. That being said, this book is filled with the Catholic religion. I think that alone may make a lot of readers pass on this. I’m not particularly religious, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Nolan has created an unforgettable character in Archie. He is your average boy, but unique in the so many ways. His devotion to Clare is startling at times, but almost understandable. Clare herself is a startling character. Her complete, unwavering devotion to God is incredible and terrifying. Archie wants what she has and almost loses himself to find it. Their pilgrimage moved me to tears.
I couldn’t even put the book down towards the end because I was so connected to Archie and I needed to know what was going to happen to him. It’s impossible not to care for him. Archie is so young and naïve and he has so much love pouring out of him that I instantly felt connected with him. I never really felt that way with Clare, but I don’t think the reader is supposed to. Clare is the catalyst for the pilgrimage and Archie’s reason for wanting to be closer to God, but she does so much more than that for him. Their journey isn’t just about finding God, it is about finding the goodness in humankind and becoming saintly in ways that aren’t even related to religion.
When We Were Saints isn’t a love story and it isn’t necessarily a story about finding God either. It is a story about a boy finding himself. Archie goes on a pilgrimage to be closer to God, but he actually discovers the person he is and the person he wants to be. It is a moving, emotional journey that will stay with me for a long time.
Opening line: Archibald Lee Caswell had named the still he and his best friend, Armory Mitchell, had built in the basement of his grandparents’ home The Last Hurrah, in honor of Armory, who was moving with his family to Washington, D.C.
Favorite line: Maybe that’s all it really takes to be a saint – those simple acts of kindness.