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Brent Van Staalduinen’s expertly crafted debut novel begins with a thief robbing a thrift store at gunpoint and then pocketing a little silver box from an allegedly magic cubbyhole. This tense, yet unconventional scene is an excellent setup for an imaginative story of family survival.

Saints, Unexpected follows 15-year-old Mutton and her family over the course of a hot, trying summer of living and working in the urban core of Hamilton, Ont. Their storefront is located in a busy area where many people are struggling with homelessness, addiction, and other afflictions—yet it is also a setting with signs of economic renewal.

Mutton is a bright young girl with aspirations to be a writer. As she navigates the often awkward trials of adolescence, she is also dealing with burdens specific to her family’s situation. The questions she faces seem endless. What does it mean, at age 15, to fall in love? Can her mother’s thrift store make it? Will the frail health of her youngest brother continue to decline? Are her parents really going to be able to rebuild their marriage after a chapter of deep betrayal? And how is she supposed to find the words to write about all of this?

Saints, Unexpected is an imaginative urban journey that dares to dig beneath the world’s often simplistic definitions of success, worth, and belonging. Van Staalduinen has crafted a warm-hearted novel that succeeds both as an empathetic portrait of a fictional family and as a stirring tribute to the real-life city in which their story is set. (Invisible Publishing)

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