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Welcome to Romeville, NY, hometown to the Order of Christ’s Most Precious Wounds and Cee-Cee Bianco, protagonist of MB Caschetta’s compulsively readable first novel, Miracle Girls. It’s 1973, and teenage girls are going missing in record numbers, and ten-year-old Cee-Cee (named after Saint Cecilia) is having visions of the missing girls.
Centered around the Bianco family—Cee-Cee, her three older brothers, her wild-card mother and alcoholic father—Miracle Girls features an enormous cast: add to the Biancos two grandmothers, a handful of radical Sisters, family friends, Cee-Cee’s classmates at Our Lady Queen of Sorrows, a curious police officer, and a smattering of others, but Caschetta deftly handles the omniscient narration, moving from brain to brain in this small town, never allowing confusion to set in.
But Cee-Cee is the one to watch here, and indeed, all eyes in the town are on her. She has visions—whether truly religious or somehow related to epilepsy or migraines one never really knows—and those visions spark subtle conflict within her family. Cee-Cee’s Nonna—an old-world religious type who is tight with the Order of Christ’s Most Precious Wounds—and many of the Sisters are intrigued by Cee-Cee’s abilities; Cee-Cee’s parents would just as soon dose her with Benadryl and keep the whole thing hush-hush.
But one afternoon, in a moment that doesn’t come quite clear until later in the book, Cee-Cee and her brothers venture into the woods and Cee-Cee is violated. In the traumatic moments that follow her rape, her youngest brother Baby Pauly (they are very close in age, and consider each other “twins”) runs off looking for help, gets lost, and nearly drowns. Hours later, Cee-Cee leads the police and search crew to the place where Baby Pauly has become trapped in the ice—he is not dead, but he has fallen into a coma from which the doctors predict he will never wake up.
Following these events, Cee-Cee is relocated to her Nonna’s guardianship and enrolled in Catholic school, where she falls under the care of the Sisters of the Order of Christ’s Most Precious Wounds, where she is let in on the Sisters’ most secret activity—a secret both beautiful and radical, though not in the way that the watchful FBI and local police assume.
Caschetta’s boisterous scenes and adept handling of suspense pull you right in. Some odd things happen in Miracle Girls—one isn’t always clear about what’s happened or why—but the unusual occurrences don’t hamper the flow of the plot. For the most part, the strange events seem all a piece of Caschetta’s unusual and welcome examination of religion and faith, both perfectly off kilter and yet still honest, still sacred, and never judgmental.
Miracle Girls is an intriguing blend—part exploration of family ties, part exploration of what faith can look like, part radical concept, part history—and Caschetta does a wonderful job of weaving it all together. Her snappy prose, diverse cast of characters, and imaginative plot make Miracle Girls a pleasure to read.
By MB Caschetta
Paperback, 9781938126161, 256 pp.