Saint Training by Elizabeth Fixmer is on this year's Cybils list, and immediately caught my eye. Set in 1967, Mary Clare is a sixth grader who has a lot of questions about her faith and about growing up. While mostly about Mary Clare's own questions of faith, the Vietnam war is also a topic in this book, helping me out by counting one more title for the War Through the Generations Challenge that I have not yet finished.
Mary Clare is one of nine children in a large Catholic family. Her plans for the future include joining the convent. Mary Clare doesn't just want to be a nun. She plans to be Mother Superior. Because she has many questions about God and her faith Mary Clare begins corresponding with the Mother Superior at the Saint Mary Magdalene Convent in Minneapolis. She is able to ask her the many things she has wondered about (I am sure the Mother Superior found Mary Clare's letters very entertaining), and gain some perspective on what joining a convent would entail. Mary Clare's own family has many of their own stresses: her mother is pregnant with their tenth child despite not having enough money for the children they already have; Mary Clare is trying her best to help out, but her mother seems unhappy with her life and is busy quoting Betty Freidan's The Feminine Mystique. Her older brothers and father argue about Vietnam, and to top it off, Mary Clare is so busy helping out at home when her mother goes back to school, there is little time for her to spend with friends or just be a normal teenage girl.
I loved this look at the 1960s through Mary Clare's eyes. As I was reading I could envision the television show American Dreams which dealt with many of the same issues that Mary Clare faced in this book. In addition to Vietnam, the changing role of women, and the changes that the Catholic Church faced, the civil rights crusades that occurred in Milwaukee in the 1960s are also chronicled in Saint Training. This is a title that I had not heard about prior to looking over the Cybils list, but is a solid, entertaining historical fiction read. I would love to read more work by Fixmer