Saints and Martyrs
by Aaron Roe
Atmosphere Press

"Whatever the state of his soul, his yearning for sanctity was sacred."

Damian Kurt is a teenage boy from a pious family. It is so pious, in fact, that he believes his dead father to have been a saint and is writing his father's biography in order to prove it. Damian also adheres to a firm belief that if he can achieve saintliness here on earth, he will one day be reunited with his father in heaven. It's a gigantic undertaking for the sensitive and troubled teen fighting the carnal instincts and desires of all teenage boys. With his father dead, a controlling and manipulative mother, and a household consisting of his grandmother, his ex-priest uncle, and two younger siblings, Damian finds he feels smothered. After an accident lands him in the hospital and his mother finds and reads his journal aloud to him, Damian decides to leave home. But his time away is short-lived, and when his mother welcomes him with open arms and a tale of her own, he makes the fateful decision to join a monastery. However, once he arrives at the monastery, he discovers that life there isn't what he thought it would be. In fact, there are things going on that will challenge his faith forever.

With its moments of satire, humor, and heartbreak, Roe's premiere novel is a fascinating look at human nature and sin. With Damian's desire to be saintly and elevate his father to sainthood, readers encounter a protagonist who is deeply conflicted. He constantly seeks to confess his sins and is tormented when he cannot do so readily. His mother poses a problem for young Damian as, since the father's death and without his calming influence, "their family life had become a flurry of Mass, prayers, catechetical instruction, and readings from Butler's Lives of the Saints." However, it isn't her piety that disturbs Damian as much as her controlling nature and insistence that he join the priesthood. Though this is what he desires, her demand that he do so causes him to balk at the notion. After returning home from his short stay with his coach, however, mother and son reach an understanding, and Damian does indeed join the priesthood. All does not go well in his endeavor, and when he realizes that things at the monastery are not as they should be, he finds his faith is shattered.

Roe has a good grasp on the inner voice and angst of the teenaged Damian. With all his faults and soaring hormones, Damian is an endearing character that readers will want to see become successful. As he struggles to understand himself and God, the young man becomes convinced in his belief that his father was indeed a saint. However, no earthly father could ever live up to the expectations placed on him by his son. This becomes readily apparent as Damian discovers more about his parents than he imagined. Through all his trials (and there are some substantial ones), Damian learns that blindly following without question can lead to huge mistakes. In the end, all comes to a reckoning, and readers will cheer on the tortured Damian as he strikes a blow for freedom.

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