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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 697

Soveida is a young woman who has always identified with saints. She expounds on a list of the saints with whom she most identified when she was a girl in a Catholic school. Figuring large on her list are “the passive lay-down-their-life-and-die-rather-than-screw virgins.” For example, she finds the story of Saint María Goretti especially compelling. María Goretti was a little girl who was raped and murdered; her story, the narrator notes, was the introduction to passion to the children at her school.

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The narrator lists other saints of all shapes, sizes, and moods. There is Saint Sebastian, who introduced the girl to male beauty. There is Saint Theresa of Lisieux, another child saint, who provides the narrator with a sense of calmness and simplicity of spirit that the more desperate adult saints, who were more acquainted with sin, cannot. There also are saints who help people with lost causes or lost shoes.

Soveida also recalls a saint particular to her culture. A Mexican American, she describes with tender and merciless irony the position of San Martin de Porres in the household. This saint was the first African American man of whom she was ever aware. A saint of the outcast, the poor, and the marginalized, he is a favorite among Mexican Americans. The family’s little old ladies keep his image in their bedrooms, where no men have visited for more than thirty years. On the other hand, it would be a scandal if a daughter should decide to marry an African American man.

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There are practical saints who are summoned and dismissed in a sentence or two. San Isidrio helps farmers. Saint Christopher helps travelers. Saint Joseph, however, introduces a major theme of the story: the varieties of good-for-nothing men there are in the world, and the sufferings they put women through. People pray to Saint Joseph, Jesus’s surrogate father, with their male-related problems. The words used to describe these male-related problems, not to mention the knowledge and the understanding of the problems themselves, are not those of the girl Soveida. The adult Soveida uses them with facility, however, and reveals that the source of her education was her grandmother, Mamá Lupita. Mamá Lupita’s influence is strong, as is the influence of sexuality. Mamá Lupita seeks to save Soveida from men.

As a girl, Soveida uncritically accepts the parade of women saints who gladly let their breasts be torn off, their eyes plucked out, or their limbs cut off, rather than surrender to lust. Prayers, the adult Soveida narrates, rolled off the tongue of her younger self. The adult Soveida also notes how Saint Claire, a female equal of healthy, happy Saint Francis, is rarely mentioned. Saint Joan remains too aggressive even for the adult Soveida.

Mamá Lupita, who wants Soveida to become a nun, tells her of the horrible and incorrigible behavior of men—of their stink, of how, like monkeys, they cannot be trained in civilized behavior, of the little hairs they leave all over the bathtub, of their abysmal ignorance. She tells Soveida that she did not want to become a nun, but rather a priest. She hopes that someday women may become priests. Mamá Lupita points out how a friend of Soveida’s mother, who became a nun, is happy and has no wrinkles on her face. Soveida’s mother, on the other hand, has a face full of wrinkles because of the sexual infidelity of her husband, Soveida’s father, who cannot keep “the little thing” where it belongs. Mamá Lupita points out that Soveida likes to read; as a nun, she would be able to read and not be bothered by a smelly man who wants sex. Mamá Lupita spins her arguments to the little girl in a hilarious mixture of apt metaphor, crude detail, and the occasional perfectly chosen Spanish word.

After Soveida decides to become a nun Mamá Lupita urges her to join an order as soon as possible. When Soveida starts school, however, she sees Manny Ordóñez and falls in love. Magdalene, the narrator points out, is the saint of “fallen women . . . something I imagined as a child I would never become.”

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