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Agatha of Little Neon

In Claire Luchette’s debut novel, Agatha comes into her own like a pot coming to a slow boil. The Catholic sisterhood seems a safe place to enjoy the camaraderie of other women, pass her days with spoiled students and recovering addicts, and quietly hide from questions she dares not ask. But the simmering crisis of priestly abuse finally roils her into asking questions she’s held back far too long—and finding answers that lead her back to her true self.

A Flanneryesque quality emerges in Luchette’s characters. Lawnmower Jill, the addict with a heart of gold and a tongue of acid, rides a mower around town to avoid more DUIs. The jawless Tim Gary speaks volumes in the way he hangs onto hope by his fingernails. While the bishop only sees Tim’s despair, Agatha sees the stuff of everyday saints. Agatha’s three religious sisters crawl through their days almost like the parts of one insect—the head makes decisions while another is busy about food. The third seems always out of breath from dithering. When Agatha’s assignment to teach high school girls forces her to open her wings, she is surprised to find she can fly. A Yoda-like Mother Roberta with chin hairs offers her cryptic words of wisdom.

Luchette’s humor is subtly delicious, always understated and never expected. The reader is well rewarded for turning the page.

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