Serendipity in the Stacks #43: Still Water Saints

The title of this blog post was inspired by Misha. She used this phrase in one of her posts and I started pondering, “What is serendipity in the stacks and when does it occur? What kind of books have I found on the shelves and felt a ‘Eureka!’ moment?”

“Serendipity in the Stacks” is a new semi-regular feature I’ll post that highlights mid-list titles or hidden gems that deserve a second chance at booklife and I feel are good selections for book groups. These are books that are still in print, available in trade paper, and are likely to be on the shelves and not on hold into the next election year. Will there be plenty of copies in the system to support a healthily attended book group of about eight to ten readers? My guess is no, but these will be titles that would be excellent additions to any library’s book group kit service and will hopefully prompt readers to say, “If it weren’t for book group, I would never have found this book.”

First on the list is Still Water Saints by Alex Espinoza. This lyrical first novel is reminiscent of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.still-water-saints

In the small border town of Agua Mansa, Perla runs her botanica full of herbs, remedies, saint cards, charms and candles. The townspeople come to her for healing–hearts, heads, spirits, bodies. Along with the special potions and incenses and tributes to various saints, Perla provides hope and encouragement to her visitors. When a frightened and homeless boy, Rodrigo, comes to Perla for English lessons, she writes out the story of her life for him. His disappearance challenges Perla to examine her own doubts and losses in her life even as she seeks to heal Rodrigo’s physical and emotional wounds.

Don’t expect a tidy resolution from this tragic and charming novel full of hopeful characters. Life hasn’t ever delivered one of these in reality and while his first debut is full of fantastical elements, Espinoza’s fiction depicts life, not fantasy.

In his last interview, Espinoza talked about revisiting the town of Agua Mansa in his follow up, but it hasn’t surfaced yet, so fans of Still Water Saints will have to be patient. In the meantime, readers will enjoy talking about the characters and the kind of help they receive from Perla. Is she providing answers or is she merely pointing them in the direction they need to discover the answers for themselves? How much help can one person offer another before it’s not help, merely instructions? Espinoza creates an atmosphere that is magical, hopeful, and emotional. How does he do that with his characters and setting?

Consider adding this little known debut to the book group roster for next year. Let your book group be the next to rediscover this hidden treasure.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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