Kirstin Valdez Quade's debut novel hooked me on page 1, where she introduces 33-year-old Amadeo Padilla, a character unlike any I've read about before. The book takes place during Holy Week in New Mexico, and Amadeo — an unemployed, mostly absent father who drinks a little too much and lives with his mother — has been given the role of Jesus in the town's Good Friday procession. He sees the role as catharsis, a chance for absolution, and he gives himself over to the performance to a disturbing extent. What complicates all of this is the unexpected arrival of his pregnant 15-year-old daughter, Angel, who is utterly charming and refuses to give Amadeo's martyrdom the respect he feels it deserves.
The story follows this flawed but endearing family over the course of the baby's first year, during which multiple generations — Amadeo; Angel; Amadeo's mother, who's hiding a secret; Angel's mother, on bad terms with both Angel and Amadeo; and Amadeo's great-uncle, a stoic father figure still reeling from the death of his own son — are forced to coexist, despite how uncomfortable it may be. It's a wholehearted, radiant, and darkly funny exploration of family, faith, and forgiveness. —Arianna Rebolini