cover image Agatha of Little Neon

Agatha of Little Neon

Claire Luchette. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-26526-7

A quartet of nuns navigates unexpected changes in Luchette’s dynamic and resonant debut. Frances, Mary Lucille, Therese, and narrator Agatha are transferred to a Rhode Island halfway house called Little Neon that’s painted the “chemical, lurid” color of Mountain Dew and houses a collective of eccentric characters such as Lawnmower Jill, who drove drunk too many times and now resorts to driving the vehicle from which her nickname is derived. Luchette profiles the nuns with crisp precision, portraying their leader Mother Roberta as a tinderbox of nerves and pent-up frustrations who is angry that “the church she’d loved all her life was reluctant to change”; noting the sisters’ “ovarian synchrony”; and describing the secretly gay Agatha’s observation of two girls kissing in her classroom (she also teaches at a local high school) as “moving their heads the way pigeons do.” As Agatha builds confidence while giving geometry lessons, she and her sisters are challenged by the home’s residents’ judgments of their biblical teachings, such as one who claims the story of Noah’s ark is about “how God hates gay people.” Employing short, clipped chapters and shimmering prose, Luchette garnishes each scene with tender and nuanced descriptions of longing and chastity, creating a lovely story of how cross-cultural exchange can foster hope and fruitful advancements. This is charming and remarkably thoughtful. (Aug.)