Search

Scorched Grace Book Review

Author: Margot Douaihy

Review Written By: Elliot Eatinger


Summary:

In the unconventional life of Sister Holiday Walsh, two profound factors begin to consume her

life: God, and fire.


Saint Sebastian’s School in New Orleans is stricken with tragedy when a rogue case of arson

leaves two students (and the nun who saved them) injured, and a beloved custodian dead. The

problem is that the death looks to be far from an accident. This series of unexplained events

sends Sister Holiday on a determined path of crime solving, fueled by a complex admiration for

the Holy Ghost and truth-seeking, while ghosts from her own past chase her down at every turn.


Review:

(without major spoilers)



Sister Holiday is a queer, punk nun from Brooklyn who relocated to New Orleans after an

inexplicable string of tragedies and come-to-Jesus moments, following in the footsteps of her

former devotee mother. If that isn’t enough of a character pull, I don’t know what it is.


This story undoubtedly has a complex relationship with Catholicism and devotion, saddled from

the perspective of someone who has found guidance in faith even when it’s tested. It might be a

complicated read for anyone who has left a faith of religion – and I say that speaking from

experience. I think it’s well worth the read regardless because it provides a unique perspective

that I haven’t seen in contemporary fiction in some time. Sister Holiday’s faith – along with the

unwavering faith of the Sisters of the Sublime Blood – is one that drives the story through every

slow climb, sharp turn, and freefalls into the unknown.


This is also a story with blood in its teeth and grit under its nails; Douhaiy unapologetically

explores the shades of gray in every single character, especially its lead in Sister Holiday. These

are deeply flawed, complex people who go through the motions of this increasingly strenuous

time and dig their nails into the story, as it haunts and follows them just as they might follow it.

The other three Sisters of the convent, along with Saint Sebastian’s other staff, all prove to be a

surprising supporting cast that you don’t want to let go of. Honestly, I could’ve done with the

book being longer in order to spend more time with them.


There’s one part in particular – with a couple of tense encounters between Holiday and Prince

Dempsey, a delinquent student with a troubled past, foreshadowing written all over him (just not

the way you’d think) – that had me set aback. It’s made extremely clear through the narrative

that Sister Holiday is someone who is constantly seeking penance for her messier past, while

trying to use those breakneck instincts to solve what feels like an unsolvable case; whether you

like her or hate her, she certainly drives forward. The overarching narrative, interwoven with

flashbacks of Holiday’s life prior to the convent, and ghosts of her making new appearances

provides the reader a chance to decide for themselves.


I wanted to spend far more time with Maggie Riveaux, the sharp and sardonic fire inspector with

messes and secrets of her own. There’s a dichotomy presented in between her – a Black woman

prominent in her field – and one of her deeply ignorant, casually bigoted white counterparts in

the police department that proves itself as a clear set of cracks in this fictionalized setting of New

Orleans’ public servants, but doesn’t quite sink its teeth into a deeper commentary in favor of the

relentless pace of narrative pursuit.


There’s a fascinating landscape right behind her that is shown with great love and complex

admiration, through Douhaiy’s rich poetic prose – and it was another one of those moments

where I found myself asking for more attention to the gems hidden in the cracks. My next

question for Douhaiy might be about what would she do, if we spent more time in this world?

There are a lot of open ends left, and maybe it’s on purpose, with the Gillian Flynn book deals

wide open.


Overall, I think it’s a deeply rewarding novel. The ending and final sets of twists hurled me back

to the very beginning of the book, and demanded attention to what I might have missed along the

way. Scorched Grace is brutal and brilliant and one hell of a debut prose novel. I’m looking

forward to what she does next.


xx


Content warnings for: violence, graphic depictions of injury and death, homophobia.

21 views0 comments