The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin
by Stephanie Knipper Published by Algonquin Books
on August 2nd 2016 Genres: magical realism
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Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when they were kids. As adults, they’ve been estranged for years, until circumstances force them to come together to protect Rose’s daughter. Ten-year-old Antoinette has a severe form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness: she can heal things with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor’s tremors disappear, changes the course of nature on the Kentucky flower farm where she and her mother live.
Antoinette’s gift, though, puts her own life in danger, as each healing comes with an increasingly deadly price. As Rose—the center of her daughter’s life—struggles with her own failing health, and Lily confronts her anguished past, they, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe.
Written with great heart and a deep understanding of what it feels like to be “different,” The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a novel about the lengths to which people will go to protect the ones they love.
This book has been on my shelf for almost 6 months! Shameful. I kept meaning to read it and then I would get distracted. But at long last, I present my review of The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin!
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a sweet, homey book that easily transported me back to my childhood and teen years growing up in Ohio. I immediately loved the sisters Rose and Lily and TOTALLY identified with Rose’s stubbornness and heartache in not calling her sister years earlier. Antoinette is clearly a difficult but lovable child and so many times I just wanted to scoop her up and hug her. The slow, off-the-main-plot romance was also sweet…even if I wasn’t particularly fond of how this grown-up version of a love triangle was handled, in the end.
The sisters Rose and Lily along with Rose’s daughter Antoinette, are the key players in this story. The story is told in turns from the POV of Lily, Antoinette, and Rose’s diary. It works really well – I was surprised! Antoinette’s father disappeared before she was born and Rose has devoted herself entirely to her daughter. Lily hasn’t had a serious relationship since the-boy-next-door, Seth, broke up with her years before. Even if her best friend is a guy and they’ve been through a lot together. The other side characters that populate small town Kentucky are so real they almost walk out of the pages. I love them all. I wish I could be the sister’s neighbor.
Antoinette is a dear thing, even if I can imagine how frustrating and difficult it would be to try to be her mother or guardian. Her autism is one that baffles even the doctors, as she both shows signs of severe autism and breaks all the “rules” regarding it.
Rose is dying. As a last resort, she calls her estranged sister and begs her to come home and help care for Antoinette and their family’s flower farm in Kentucky.
The story centers on Antoinette, even though she never says a word. Her sections of the book are VERY well done. Of course we don’t know for sure how a non-verbal child would describe the world around them, Knipper’s depiction is vivid and sharp without being condescending. Her personal experience with special needs children is evident. Antoinette never feels “wrong,” or like someone to be pitied. She just is, and as she is, she has a lot to offer the world if only people would look past their first impression.
Now, here’s where I have a slight issue. When I requested this book, I guessed it would be magical realism. Which was spot on. However, I’m not really okay with Antoinette’s disabilities being written off as a side effect to her magical ability to heal. At times it seemed like it was more “in addition to” her autism, she could heal things – which is fine and creative and all that. But at other times it seemed like she was different because she could heal things. The difference is small but it’s a lot in terms of how you look at people with impairments. The overall tone is one of deepest respect and love for Antoinette (and by extension, anyone with differences), as well as understanding of and for her, but that point bothered me a little.
I really liked that Lily also has signs of a disorder – she’s very high-functioning, so as an adult she copes and hides it well – but it’s there all the same and as a child she was always the odd one. I loved that so much. I love that it gave her a means to connect with Antoinette, I love that she didn’t grow out of it or magically become cured by coming home.
Anyway, as far as the story arch goes…it was a beautiful story. It’s not very fast-paced (very in line with small town Kentucky), but it’s lovely. I felt like I was walking the rows of flowers with the characters, and I was sure I could smell lavender bread at one point. The resolution was NOT what I expected though…and I really wasn’t pleased with it. I understand that the book is centered around the idea of unexplained abilities, but up until the very end it was still very believable. The ending was just too convenient for my taste, but if you like happy endings you will enjoy it immensely.
There is a little bit of romance – even a grown-up, mellow version of a love triangle – but it works. It’s sweet and a fireflies-in-July type of warm and fuzzy. It’s believable and not over the top. I didn’t like the way it was wrapped up, particularly…well, I was happy with who ended up together but not how it ALL ended.
I grew up in Ohio/Virginia. This little town, the farm, and the people, are as familiar to me as my own name. Stephanie Knipper has done an amazing job last bringing this little place to life. I really felt very, very homesick as I read.
I’m giving 4/5 stars. Overall this is a lovely story that I would highly recommend for a rainy afternoon and evening while drinking a cup of tea. There’s nothing drastic in it, nothing scary…it’s a very cozy book, but it still managed to rend my heart. I hope Stephanie Knipper writes more books, I would definitely give anything she wrote a chance. I’m actually very surprised this book doesn’t have more reviews!
Many thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
This counts towards my Beat the Backlist challenge!