Saints of the Household
Author: Ari Tison
Published: March 28, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Summary: Saints of the Household is a haunting contemporary YA about an act of violence in a small-town–beautifully told by a debut Indigenous Costa Rican-American writer–that will take your breath away.
Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.
But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school’s star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers’ dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are. As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They’ll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.
Told in alternating points of view using vignettes and poems, debut author Ari Tison crafts an emotional, slow-burning drama about brotherhood, abuse, recovery, and doing the right thing.
Review: This gorgeous novel alternates two brothers’ perspectives, one in prose (similar to short vignettes) and one in verse. I was captivated by this book and felt really connected to the two characters. The story begins immediately following a violent altercation between the brothers and their cousin’s girlfriend. The boys (Jay and Max) also experience domestic abuse at home. Jay and Max are less than a year apart in age and very close, yet they negotiate the altercations in very different ways. I highly recommend this book and am really glad that I read it and got to know Jay’s and Max’s stories.
Tools for Navigation: This book inspires creative writing. Teachers might ask students to try writing alternating perspectives of two people who are negotiating a conflict in different ways. They might also try writing one voice in prose and one in verse.
- Did you find yourself feeling more empathetic toward one of the brothers? If yes, why might this be? If no, do you think audiences might be more empathetic to a brother, and why or why not?
- How does the domestic abuse impact each of the brothers?
- How did the different forms enhance your reading of the text?
Flagged Passage: “‘Sadness is not uncommon for our people,’ he tells me. ‘We have been hurt by many. People have been murdered. Our lands taken. But, in turn, when you are so hurt, you cannot let them win again by allowing them to take your mind. We’ve got everything against us, dawö’chke, but we’re still here, aren’t we? Each one of us made it. And we will still make it through all we’re facing'” (p. 186).
Read This If You Love: Angeline Boulley, Amber McBride, Ibi Zoboi