Publication date: October 4, 2016
In the vein of The Virgin Suicides, a dazzling debut novel about four girls inexplicably named Guinevere, all left by their parents to be raised by nuns, and the year in which their tightly knit Guinevere family implodes when four comatose soldiers arrive.I received an ARC for free through Goodreads Giveaways.
Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration by different paths, delivered into the rigorous and austere care of Sister Fran. Each has their own complicated, heartbreaking story that they safeguard. But together they are the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives. Together, they learn about God, history, and, despite the nuns' protestations, sex. They learn about the saints whose revival stories of faith and pain are threaded through their own. But above all, they plot their futures, when they can leave the convent and finally find a true home. But when four comatose soldiers, casualties of the War looming outside, arrive at the convent, The Guineveres’ friendship is tested in ways they never could have foreseen.
In The Guineveres, Sarah Domet navigates the wonder and tumult of girlhood, the families we yearn for and create. In prose shot through with beauty, Domet intertwines the ordinary and the miraculous, as The Guineveres discover what home really means. - from Goodreads
I've had really good luck this year with books I've won through Goodreads Giveaways, and The Guineveres was no exception. The Guineveres tells the story of four teenage girls, all named Guinevere (nicknamed Vere, Gwen, Win, and Ginny), who live in a convent. Bound by their common name, the girls form their own little family, but their friendships are tested when four comatose soldiers are brought to the convent.
The Guineveres are supposed to live at the convent until they turn 18, but they don't want to wait that long. They dream of moving to the city, getting jobs, getting married - maybe even finding the families that gave them up. When their initial plan to run away fails, they concoct a new plan involving the comatose soldiers - if they nurse the soldiers and figure out who they are, maybe the soldiers' families will take The Guineveres home with them. The soldiers are a chance for the girls to escape their lives behind the convent walls, but as the months go on, the girls develop complicated feelings for these soldiers.
Despite their common name, Domet has created four distinct characters. Vere is the narrator; she is the first of the group to arrive at the convent. Win is the stoic one. Ginny is the artist. Gwen is clearly the leader of the group. Each girl had a difficult family life which resulted in them being left at the convent, and I was touched by the somewhat naivety (or maybe hopefulness) of a couple of the girls, who really believed they would be reunited with their families and get their happy ending.
Because the story takes place in a convent, there is naturally a focus on religion. Various chapters feature different saints; the girls perform as altar servers; and the nuns are charge of education. Not being a particularly religious person myself, I was a little worried that the focus on religion would take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it actually never felt overbearing. I felt the religious aspects were straightforward and not preachy. The setting of the book may be a religious institution, but the story is more about the girls, none of whom is a particularly strong believer, other than Vere at times.
4 stars: Although I wasn't crazy about the ending, I felt The Guineveres was an effective coming-of-age story which explored the sometimes difficult friendships between teenage girls and the idea of creating homes and families of our own.