Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the short list to be elected the first American pope. Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visit her in her bed and when her sister becomes pregnant “out of wedlock,” Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation. Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.
Playwright Hicks's debut novel spans the latter half of 1963. For 12-year-old narrator Annie Shea, that period's turbulent events the election of a new pope, the Equal Pay Act, and J.F.K.'s assassination reflect and shape the changes taking place in her body and soul. Initially she's willing to lie to bolster her family's reputation as good Catholics, but she gradually awakens to the hypocrisy in the church and in her family life, in which impressing a visiting priest is more important than tending to a screaming baby in a wet diaper, bragging about the number of children one has is more important than cherishing them, and nightly sexual abuse goes unpunished. When one of her twelve siblings is sent to a convent home for unwed mothers, Annie presses her family to live according to the dubious theory they espouse: that with each new life, there will always be more love to go around. Annie's insistence on truth telling restores connections and strengthens her own resolve to continue to "say what I see not just what they want me to see." This worthy debut has a disarming humor.
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Couldn't put it down. What a lovely book about a lovely family and girl. Can't wait to read more from this author.