Signs & Wonders
By Pat Lowery Collins
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Hardcover, 9780395971192, 192pp.)
Publication Date: October 1999
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Tucked away at boarding school, fourteen-year-old Taswell is undergoing an extraordinary transformation. She knows it's important, but she's not sure how to deal with it and who she should tell . . . certainly not her distant grandmother, who's busy with work, or her father, who has a new and pregnant wife. Isolated from friends and family, she looks for help and advice in surprising places. As Taswell discovers more about herself and the people around her, she ultimately finds salvation where she least expects it. Told entirely in letters, this startlingly original novel about a search for love and family is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Pat Lowery Collins lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she writes, paints and illustrates full-time. She was born and raised in Hollywood and received her B.A. in English from the University of Southern California. She is an award winning poet and author, having written a number of young adult novels including The Fattening Hut (Houghton, 2003), Just Imagine (Houghton, 2001), and Signs and Wonders (Houghton, 1999), as well as the picture book Tomorrow, Up and Away (Houghton, 1990). To learn more about Pat Lowery Collins, visit her website at www.patlowerycollins.com.
"Taswell has been singled out for a miracle. She is pregnant--a virgin birth--with the prophet for a new millennium. Living in a convent-run school allows her seclusion and enables her to focus her mind on both her secret and things holy. The book's format is a series of letters between Taswell and those who will help or hinder her mission: the grandmother who raised her after Taswell was abandoned by her mother; her distant father and his pregnant young wife; a classmate who comes to believe in Taswell's calling; and Taswell's angel, from whom she seeks signs and wonders. Collins effectively allows readers a glimpse into Taswell's mind as the girl physically and emotionally exhibits signs of pregnancy. Taswell's correspondents are equally well defined, though her grandmother is a career woman stereotypical to the point of incredulity. The eventual disclosure of Taswell's secret, and the inevitable discovery that hers is a hysterical pregnancy, is well played. Less effective is the aftermath, in which Taswell and her new stepmother bond, and for all intents and purposes erase the last nine months. Still, strong voices and an intriguing premise allow readers to contemplate both the mundane and the miraculous." Booklist, ALA
"Her parents having run off (in two different directions), Taswell, raised by her grandmother Mavis, has now been packed off to a convent: "Mavis has sent me here because she's afraid." Perhaps Mavis should have saved her fears, for now Taswell is convinced she is pregnant, and not by ordinary means, nor with ordinary prospects. As she eventually confides to her guardian angel, Pim, Taswell believes herself to be carrying-virginally-the "prophet for the New Millennium." The novel is told in epistolary form, with Taswell's letters to Pim comprising the truth (as she sees it), while her letters to and from her grandmother and father and soon-to-be stepmother slowly reveal the sad reality of Taswell's lonely life. The psychology of the book is rather too simple and too overtly bared in the concluding pages, but Taswell's caustic voice is so convincing and the convent school so sparely but atmospherically conveyed that she really has us going there for a while-signs, prophets, and all. In her first novel, Pat Lowery Collins employs smart restraint with a theme that could have been melodramatic but is instead tenderly and respectfully evoked; like Taswell, she makes us want to believe." Horn Book
As 14-year-old Taswell, a virgin, relates in this epistolary novel the progress of her pregnancy, she draws readers into her supreme self-confidence, toward her unshakable conviction that she is about to bring forth a prophet. From the small convent school where she has been sent because her grandmother Mavis doesn't quite know what to do with her, Taswell writes letters. At first her case appears to be one of ordinary self-absorption, common among teenagers, but soon it becomes clear that Taswell's belief that the world revolves around her has reached monumental proportions. She writes to the beautiful and self-possessed Mavis, to accuse her of being more concerned with her own life and career than with Taswell herself; she writes to her father, Charles, who after several marriages seems to have found a woman he really loves; and she writes to a kind of guardian spirit named Pim. Taswell holds her secret close, and readers watch with a kind of dread and fascination as it unfolds. She enlists a schoolmate to be her midwife, and as news of her pregnancy spreads, Taswell faces the school authorities and her relatives with equal ferocity. While the denouement is a bit too easy, readers will be tied into the claustrophobic interior of Taswell's heart for the duration. With great clarity and precision, Collins shows how all the strength and good wishes of the nuns who teach Taswell, and the shortcomings of the relatives who love her, are not enough; this heroine will face her guardian angel, or angels, and see her own way clear. Riveting.