Review Saints for All Occasions: A novel by J. Courtney Sullivan, National Bestseller

A sweeping, unforgettable novel from The New York Times best-selling author of Maine, about the hope, sacrifice, and love between two sisters and the secret that drives them apart.

Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America.

Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand.

Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children: John, a successful, if opportunistic, political consultant; Bridget, privately preparing to have a baby with her girlfriend; Brian, at loose ends after a failed baseball career; and Patrick, Nora’s favorite, the beautiful boy who gives her no end of heartache. Estranged from her sister and cut off from the world, Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. Until, after decades of silence, a sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago.

A graceful, supremely moving novel from one of our most beloved writers, Saints for All Occasions explores the fascinating, funny, and sometimes achingly sad ways a secret at the heart of one family both breaks them and binds them together.


Saints for All Occasions: A novel by [Sullivan, J. Courtney]




Editorial Reviews


“Reminiscent of both Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn and Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves… All of Sullivan’s characters leap off the page. You don’t read this book; you breathe it.” –Janet Maslin, “Times Critics’ Top Books of 2017,” The New York Times

“Fabulous and smart.” —Emma Straub, The New York Times Book Review

“Moving… Eloquently testifies to the durability of the fabric of family… Touched with… warmth, kindness and gentle wisdom.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“A breathtaking literary ode to life, change, and the unbreakable bonds of family.” —Redbook

“Carefully plotted… Sullivan succeeds in creating a believably complicated, clannish Irish-American family… Engrossing.” —Suzanne Berne, The New York Times

“An engrossing family drama… Sullivan’s profound understanding of her characters and the Irish-Catholic culture that defines them illuminates every scene.” —Kim Hubbard, People Magazine
“This year’s best book about family… Elegant… Captivating… Deft and insightful… A quiet masterpiece…impressive. Saints for All Occasions is so unassuming that its artistry looks practically invisible. In a simple style that never commits a flutter of extravagance, Sullivan draws us into the lives of the Raffertys, and in the rare miracle of fiction makes us care about them like they were our own family.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“A blockbuster…An engrossing family drama with feisty humor and transformative tough love.”

“I hope to read another novel as strong and wise and beautiful and heartbreaking as J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions this year, but I’m not sure I will.”
—Richard Russo

About the Author

J. COURTNEY SULLIVAN is the New York Times best-selling author of the novels The EngagementsMaine, and Commencement. Maine was named a 2011 Time magazine Best Book of the Year and a Washington Post Notable Book. The Engagements was one of People Magazine’s Top Ten Books of 2013 and an Irish Times Best Book of the Year, and has been translated into seventeen languages. She has contributed to The New York Times Book Review, the Chicago TribuneNew York magazine, ElleGlamourAllureReal Simple, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among many other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Top customer reviews


There are memorable characters and stories and then there are fantastic characters and incredibly moving stories brought to life that allow you to fall deep into a book and forget that they are just that. Stories. This is what happens when you read J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS. Rich storytelling, fraught with intense struggle, torn between two worlds, young girls who leave their home in Ireland for America, not yet ready for this unknown world that awaits and promises a new life, a better one. Terrified, on their own. Husbands-to-be, still too young to process, away from the comfort of home and family, and all that they know. Sisters torn apart over great love that will change their lives forever. They each take a separate course, never knowing what the other is feeling. This is what secrets can do.

A new generation enters with their own set of problems. Of this new world, they are only aware of the present, and a bit of their move from Boston’s Dorchester where their large extended family lives to their new home in the farther away Hull. The sudden move was never explained. Their parents’ past is unknown to them. A family tragedy occurs later as the children are grown and life unfolds before them.

Sullivan paints a strong portrait of Irish immigrants, the life and hardship that so many left behind with the hope of better jobs, improved education, while holding on to their beliefs and religion in a new country. What the second generation finds is that they are faced with a different set of troubles, yet some resemble similar predicaments of a previous era. We evolve but there is always difficulty and perhaps, we should not be so quick to dismiss the generation before us.

As the grandchild of Irish immigrants and member of a very big Irish family on one side, I thought I would enjoy this book. Mostly, I did. The descriptions of leaving Ireland, crossing the sea, and arriving in America were similar to that of many immigrant stories because the experience was similar for most Irish immigrants. If it were up to me, I would probably still be in Ireland (which I love), because I don’t think I could be as brave as the young girls in the book. The afflictions and struggles of many of the characters are common to those of Irish descent or big families. Culture, religion, and circumstances led to what in hindsight seem like questionable decisions, but, again, they rang true for the era in which they occurred. I was reading the book while on a vacation and found myself eager to get back to it each day. That said, I did not feel that the connection to the title was very strong. Though there was a box of cards with pictures of saints, there was really little reference to them. Both meaning and humor could have been added to the story if there had been a stronger link to the saints. I did not find the ending satisfying.
A Reader
I deeply enjoyed this novel. It reminded me of Matthew Thomas’s “We Are Not Ourselves,” with Alice McDermott influences (Irish immigrants in the states and how they assimilate, etc). Sullivan, an author new to me, takes her time with the various characters in her family narrative, allowing each to have a full story in alternating chapters, beginning in Ireland and covering many years in New England. If you feel like taking your time with a book, you might like this aspect; if you don’t, you might become impatient. It’s quite detailed. I loved the epic feel of it, the way each member of this complicated family gets his or her due. I agree, though, with others who felt that the ending was too abrupt. The entire book seems to be leading up to a final confrontation/reconciliation between its two main protagonists, and I was dying to see how that played out. In fact, it doesn’t play out at all. Sullivan opts for a simple, graceful, woefully inadequate ending to a strong and promising build-up. 4 stars rather than 5 for the disappointing ending. But much gratitude for having discovered a lovely writer.




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