What is better than randomly grabbing a book off your shelves and finding yourself enthralled with it? Answer: nothing. Well, maybe coffee.... Or chocolate. Or baby snuggles.... Or weekends with no plans.... Ok, but this still ranks up there!
I recently read The Five Wounds by Kirsten Valdez Quade. I went into this book a bit blind. A quick glance at the synopsis had me going in expecting a multi-generational family drama, but I was blown away by these characters. They are messy, real, and raw. They are unlikable at times, and you will question many of their life choices, but man, will you root for them. You will want what's best for them and you will become invested in their stories. You will think about them long after you finish the last page, wondering what they are up to and if their dreams have come true. Now that, is the sign of a good book!
(From Goodreads) It’s Holy Week in the small town of Las Penas, New Mexico, and thirty-three-year-old unemployed Amadeo Padilla has been given the part of Jesus in the Good Friday procession. He is preparing feverishly for this role when his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel shows up pregnant on his doorstep and disrupts his plans for personal redemption. With weeks to go until her due date, tough, ebullient Angel has fled her mother’s house, setting her life on a startling new path.
Vivid, tender, funny, and beautifully rendered, The Five Wounds spans the baby’s first year as five generations of the Padilla family converge: Amadeo’s mother, Yolanda, reeling from a recent discovery; Angel’s mother, Marissa, whom Angel isn’t speaking to; and disapproving Tíve, Yolanda’s uncle and keeper of the family’s history. Each brings expectations that Amadeo, who often solves his problems with a beer in his hand, doesn’t think he can live up to.
The Five Wounds follows five generations of the Padilla family over the course of one year. Through love and loss, grief and pain, high highs and low lows. It is messy and complex with flawed and unlikeable characters that are real and endearing. They are all seeking something, anything, to make them feel whole. I fell in love with them and their story, especially young Angel. You cannot help but stand in that girl's corner. She has the odds against her; pregnant at 16, high school dropout, distant mother who dates abusive men, yet she does not give up hope. She works hard to create a better life for her son, while also learning who she is and what brings her joy.
Set in New Mexico, The Five Wounds is atmospheric with a strong sense of place. The religious undertones and themes of family added so much complexity to the Padilla's story. The book opens with a ritualistic ceremony where men reenact the crucifixion of Christ. Amadeo is selected to play Jesus and it takes it incredibly seriously, thinking that in doing so, it will save him from his troubles: alcoholism, unemployment, estrangement from daughter, etc. He even goes as far as asking for actual nails when he is put on the cross. This ceremony plays a major role in the story and ends up being a catalyst for what is to come, as well as a reflection point for the end of the story.
There are some content/trigger warnings with this one and there was some content that had me holding my breath, terrified to read the next pages. But those emotions are what made me love this book. It pulled everything out of me.
Content warnings: substance abuse, racism, classism, terminal disease, death of a loved one, postpartum depression, teenage pregnancy
"If he can't remember the pain, how could it have meant anything at all?"
"He missed the point. The procession isn't about punishment or shame. It is about needing to take on the pain of loved ones. To take on that pain, first you have to see it. And see how you inflict it."
Read if you like:
Character driven novels
Slow burning storylines
Multi-generational family sagas