Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Nun and the Atheist: Mini Reviews of Agatha of Little Neon and Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Agatha is committed to God and the church but, more than anything, she is committed to her sisters. When their diocese goes bankrupt, she can't fathom doing anything else but going with her sisters wherever they are sent. None of them expected to be assigned to a halfway house in Rhode Island. Agatha, Frances, Therese, and Mary Lucille leave behind their home and everyone they know to try to do some good for the people of Little Neon and the students at the local high school. 

Agatha of Little Neon is, in a way, a coming of age story. While she is in her mid-twenties, Agatha is discovering for the first time that the people in authority are not always looking out for her best interests. She is also starting to wonder who she might be if she hadn't promised her life to God and her sisters. Agatha, Frances, Therese, and Mary Lucille are well-acquainted with many of the virtues, but the thing that rings true on every page is kindness--they are kind to themselves, kind to each other, and kind to the people they encounter who are doing the best they can. This is a story about figuring out who you are and what is important when your community and your beliefs let you down.

Agatha of Little Neon
By Claire Luchette
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux August 2021
274 pages
Read via Netgalley

Gilda is not well. She is anxious and depressed, and usually thinking about death. The local ER staff knows her by name since she frequently goes there, thinking that she is dying. Her relationships with her family and girlfriend are strained. When she sees a flyer for mental health support, she gathers the courage to attend a group at a local church. Instead, she finds a friendly priest who assumes she is applying for the job of church receptionist. Gilda soon finds herself trying to keep too many lies straight--not only is she pretending that she is a straight, Catholic woman who is qualified for this job, she is also keeping up an email correspondence with a friend of her dead predecessor Grace while pretending to be Grace herself. 

Reading Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead is somewhat like watching a horror movie--every few minutes, you want to call out, "No! Don't do that. That is a terrible choice." Yet Gilda persists in lying to everyone around her, even herself. It's not malicious; it's just that Gilda can't see what the good choices might be. I think this book will ring true for many people who struggle with their mental health. It's hard to put this one down, as readers hope that this will be the moment that Gilda gets some help and is finally able to see that there is good in life, even if everyone in the room will indeed be dead someday. 

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead
By Emily R. Austin
Atria Books July 2021
226 pages
Read via Netgalley 

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