"'What do you do,’ she asked, voice low and jerking, ‘when everyone you love leaves you?’ The last words crumpled, and fresh tears sprang against the sore rims of her eyes. From the pale skin of his face, the waiter’s clear eyes held her gaze firmly, but it was a long moment before he answered. ‘You go to God Who cannot leave you, and keep loving."
Paint Everything Blue is the story of how one young man’s unquenchable smile, large heart, and the great cross behind them manage to reach into the lives of six other souls and leave an indelible mark on them. To these six people, smiling is a long-forgotten art, crushed by the brokenness in their own hearts from crosses they never wanted.
Set in Foggia, Italy, in June of 1960, the novel covers just a month of these seven intertwined lives. Yet when a man has exchanged hearts with the Mother of God, just a month can be enough time for him to paint the world around him blue.
(Image and Synopsis from Goodreads)
I've always been on the lookout for a good novel from the Catholic worldview. So when I heard about Paint Everything Blue, I was really excited. I got even more excited when I found out that the author was asking for reviews. Needless to say, I volunteered gladly :).
Paint Everything Blue pitched me into a wonderfully dramatic story worthy for all ages and all time.
I will say one thing....have a tissue box handy. Cause you will cry. A lot.
Don't believe me?
My teenage brother read it after I did. And he cried....a lot.
What I Liked:
First thing, I love the title very much. It was a really nice way to incorporate a subtle Marian reference.
Lena wrote her character's arcs very well. This is definitely her strength as an author. Each character really did have their own unique cross and struggles. Some share a cross, others bear their cross on their own, but all handle it in their own way - good and bad! And while some go backwards before going forwards, all do go forwards.
Lena also does a great job at using characters to show real-world struggles such as working mothers, physical challenges like hypoglycemia, and mental issues like PTSD. In this book, she also has themes such as the importance of communication, and relief from despair.
One thing that I was very impressed with is how Lena humanized her priest character Don Alphonso. One danger of Catholic writers is to portray priests as these wise, can-do-no-wrong persons, when in reality they are human as well. Lena also did a great job with all of the Confession scenes. Carlo is also a great example of Christian charity (though many people will probably think him idealized, I feel that he was a good example of saintliness).
As an author, Lena is also very good at giving those enticing details and not info-dumping. I also like how we never really see the world through Carlo's eyes, but let the viewpoints of the other characters tell his story. It is an interesting technique. I also liked how all the characters were a variety of ages, instead of staying with one age bracket.
What I Didn't Like:
The World-Building: This was actually my biggest disappointment of the entire book. According to the author, the story was set in Foggia, Italy in 1960. Besides the Italian dialect and city references, I didn't really get a sense that we were in Italy at all, or at that time. It honestly felt more like it was set in America (for myself, I thought it felt more like something like Los Angeles or New York, while my younger brother thought more South America.) Granted, the word "Padre" was probably the culprit. As for the time period - all the hint that I got that it was not contemporary was the references to Tuberculous (a disease which has mostly been eradicated in recent times). It gave me a jolt to see a year (1947) in the book, only to find out after reading it that it wasn't right. I also had the funny feeling that I was seeing more American than Italian colloquialisms.
The Closeness of Reader's Lens of Focus: Tying into that last note, I believe that the lack of world-building can be explained by the closeness of the focus on the characters and their stories. If this book was in a movie form, the camera would only show closeups and a tiny bit of background that matters at that moment. There really is no big picture to orient ourselves into a specific place or time period. Instead, it felt like we were in a big bubble. Even physical descriptions of character seem a little sparse - we see so much of the "inside" that we are unclear what is on the "outside".
Some inconsistencies: Regina's age threw me a bit - she seemed a high school student at first, and then I find that she's supposed to be 8. Paolo's money issues seem a little confusing too. Eva's pregnancy seemed to hit very suddenly and that part seemed rushed compared to the rest of the book.
Trigger/Content Warnings: Book contains an an attempted abortion (doesn't go beyond talking), an attempted suicide (which is stopped before any harm occurs), thematic elements (married couple sleeping together), an attempted gang attack (and the PTSD that occurs after), mentions of car accidents, and somewhat detailed descriptions of tuberculosis symptoms. There is also a lot of strained family relationships. All of these are handled extremely well.
For those of you who are teenagers/adults and looking for a good Catholic novel, I highly recommend this book! I rated this book 4 stars out of 5. The main story was really good, and the writing of high quality. I just felt that there wasn't enough world-building and big-picture to give it a full five stars.
If you would like to purchase it, visit Lena's blog One Good Catholic Book.
Note: I recieved a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All words are my personal opinion.