Agatha of Little Neon By Claire Luchette–Book review – AFTER THE LAST PAGE
- Debut Novel
- 271 pages
- Released in 2021
- Contemporary fiction
- Recovering addicts
- Minor LGBTQ notes
The plotline starts with four nuns living and working together. Told by Agatha, their story follows how the sisters met, their daily routines, and their connection and devotion to Mother Roberta.
Yet, when the Parish goes broke and the daycare the sisters oversee becomes empty, the sisters are forced into a new mission. Both scared and excited at the possibility of something new, the four sisters leave Mother Roberta and travel to Rhode Island, where they are tested with a new responsibility: taking care of the charges in a halfway house.
Knowing nothing about recovering addicts, the sisters jump into their duties with enthusiasm. That is, everyone except Agatha. Agatha is given the job of teaching math at the local school, where she is on her own in the first time in years. Struggling to find her identity without her sisters, Agatha has to learn what it’s like to be independent again.
Agatha of Little Neon is a story of sisterhood, friendship, and devotion. With unexpected friends and stories readers won’t soon forget, this novel is an excellent example of finding our truest selves in unlikely places.
“Claire Luchette is dazzlingly gifted, a master at balancing a sneaky deadpan wit with deep and genuine pathos. Agatha of Little Neon brilliantly mixes the sacred and the transgressive, the solemn and the absurd, and the profound, contradictory longings for belonging and independence. This book is a moving meditation on how to be a woman in the world–and how to be a human.”Karen Thomspon Walker, author of The Dreamers
I’ll admit, when I saw Agatha of Little Neon for the first time, I was drawn in by the eccentric cover. With bright pink and neon green, it’s tough to miss this book on a shelf. Yet, I was even more surprised when I read the book jacket and realized that this book was about a bunch of nuns. You’d think that nuns would be more understated that a neon cover, right? Nope—I was totally wrong.
This book stood out to me in more ways that one. I’ll admit, I struggled to connect with Agatha’s character at first. The author’s writing style is a little more minimalistic than typical fiction novels, and Agatha comes across as just the “narrator” to the nun’s story. Yet, as the book progresses, Agatha becomes much more. I believe this unique character development was a writing device that Luchette used to make readers feel this way—it makes the story even more impactful as each wave hits later on.
Character wise, I think this novel was SO interesting. Each sister seemed to have a specific stereotype that they fit. Yet together, each of these “stereotypes” make one strong person. Mary Lucille is emotional, Therese is resourceful, Frances is innovative, and Agatha is observant. Agatha thinks of herself as piece to this puzzle—without each other, the four sisters fail to work. So, when Agatha is drawn away to begin her work as a teacher, she doesn’t quite know how to function.
One of the things I found fascinating about this book were the minor characters, or the “charges” that the sisters are supposed to watch. While each character plays a small role in the book, the reader connects with them and quickly understands the important influence each has on the sisters, especially Agatha. Each of the characters and their stories almost remind me of Jesus’s parables in the bible and, while reading, I often wondered whether Luchette intentionally wrote the novel this way. In the parables, Jesus learns something from each person he meets, or challenge he overcomes. Agatha learns much in the same way.
Another interesting topic that Luchette approaches in Agatha of Little Neon is the overwhelming reality that nuns are becoming obsolete. This novel takes place in the early 2000s (I believe it begins in 2005) and in that time, the sisters are already having trouble finding another place after the parish runs out of money.
It’s important to note here that, while reading this novel, I’ve learned that the terms sister and nun are not synonymous. In the book, Agatha explains that her and her sisters are the latter—nuns typically live in a convent and are devoted to religious work inside the convent only, while sisters share their work outside of just religious grounds. Since Agatha is a sister, and not specifically a nun, it might have been more difficult for them to find a place in a contemporary religious world.
That being said, as “obsolete” as the sisters are becoming, their outdated perspectives are just as archaic. While the sisters are encouraged to have open perspectives (or more likely, not speak their mind), it becomes clear that they have opinions on contemporary issues, especially towards the middle/end of the novel. While this is likely the first time Agatha truly notices it, I found it frustrating that the sisters had such conservative views, especially on difficult topics that they had no experience with. As is often the case, it is easy to make snap judgements without personally being touched by the issue, but as religious icons, I would think that the sisters would make an effort to be more educated. This topic seems to be something that triggers Agatha to become more independent, as her views are different than her sisters.
While Agatha of Little Neon comes across of a happy book—a novel of friendship and strength through adversity—it’s not as it seems. This is the story of Agatha and her thoughts as she slowly gains a perspective independently from her sisters.
Something I wanted to note was the author’s play on the idea of “copies.” As the book appears one way and is truly another, upon reading, there are also many anecdotes about this in the book, as well. For one, the girls in Agatha’s class when she asks them to draw their bodies. This is also true of the figurines that Mary Lucille makes (180). These “copies” allude to the idea that Agatha has a copy as well and her role as a nun/sister is different than that of her individuality.
While this book is a comparatively short one to many novels on the shelves, there was SO much to be gleamed from it. I truly think this book belongs in the hands of high schoolers during their required summer reading. There’s much to analyze and regardless of how you read, there’s something to be learned here.
I decided to review this book as 4.5 stars, mainly because I struggled a bit with connecting with Agatha in the beginning, even though I do think that this device was intentional. The author’s writing style is analytical and mature; this book should be highly praised as a debut novel. While I’m often surprised by how incredible debut novels tend to be, Luchette really takes Agatha of Little Neon to another level. This is a modern-day classic that many readers of various genres would enjoy.
If you’ve already read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Luchette’s writing style and if you loved it as much as I did.
Not sure what to read next? Check out last week’s review on Ayesha at Last by clicking here.