Just before teenage Samuel’s mother died, she told him to go to the Brazilian town of Candeia, to find his estranged family and light a candle at the feet of the statue of St. Anthony. When Samuel arrives in the dilapidated town, circumstances lead him to take up residence in the statue’s head, long separated from its body. Inside the head, Samuel hears voices of women praying to the saint for husbands . . . and a mysterious voice singing sad but lovely songs. Playing matchmaker helps Samuel revitalize the town (and earn a tidy profit), but as happy couples flock to the church, secrets from the past begin to weigh on the present. Why did Candeia become all but a ghost town? Why isn’t St. Anthony’s head attached to his body? Who is the mysterious singer, and why does she sing such sad songs? Like the advice Samuel gives out in the name of the saint, Samuel’s mother’s last requests have implications far beyond their surface meanings.
This slim YA novel exemplifies the best of magical realism—as it should. Brazilian author Socorro Acioli had the opportunity to workshop the manuscript that would become The Head of the Saint with renowned Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez. If you like Márquez's work—or more contemporary multigenerational tales with a touch of magic (like Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender)—you’ll also like The Head of the Saint.
Jill Ratzan matches readers with books in a small library in southeastern Pennsylvania.