I knew the gist of St. Gianna’s life, but this was the first detailed biography I’d read, and I think it’s an excellent introduction to the saint. It’s a compact, readable biography that starts with the marriage of Gianna’s parents in 1908. Through the lens of family life, we see St. Gianna working to discern her vocation and make the most of the struggles she faces throughout her life, as well as the tremendous joy she found in marriage, motherhood, and her work as a physician.
Reading Level: Upper elementary and up. My fourth grader (average reader, Catholic girl — which makes a difference, see below) read it in one afternoon.
Why this is a great book for Moms: I know that technically it’s a children’s book. But when you have small children, you really need something that can read in five-minute snatches (with interruptions every other paragraph) and still hope to reach the end of the book before you forget the beginning. And this a book not only about a mom, but with some encouraging details for normal moms. Just look at these saintly facts:
- St. Gianna, working mother? Once her first baby was born, she had not just her own sister as a full-time nanny, but a housekeeper too. Did you get that? Not a super-person.
- She takes her two pre-schoolers to Mass and the baby stays home. She was a saint. And she left her baby at home.
- Her preschool boy lasted all of five minutes at Mass, per her account.
See? You need to read this. Saintly living for normal people.
Why this is a great book for pre-teens and teens: There is a very strong emphasis on vocation. Even though it was easy enough for my fourth grader to read, it would be perfect for about a twelve- or thirteen-year-old. Super book-club or youth group discussion choice, if you have a group of teen girls who get together to talk about Catholic stuff.
Sanity via history through biography: As a teenager, St. Gianna’s parents pulled her out of school for a year so she could rest and regain her health. They felt the vigor with which St. Gianna was pursuing her studies was wearing her out, and she needed the break. This is a teen who eventually went on to earn her M.D. If an American parent did this today, in many cases there would be significant legal and financial penalties for both parent and child. For this one anecdote alone, I’d recommend this book. You can’t think clearly about public policy if you are utterly wrapped up in the quirks of your own time and place.
Cautions for the would-be reader:
1. It helps to have a general background in Catholic culture before starting the book. There is a very helpful glossary at the back of the book, for those of us who never can remember what it is that makes a basilica a basilica. But for teaching this book to a mixed group of students with varying amounts of Catholic up-bringing, I would plan to go over the vocabulary and cultural notes for the next week’s class session before students did the reading.
2. There is a clear and straightforward explanation of the moral choices St. Gianna faced when she was diagnosed with a tumor during her last pregnancy — another reason this is a great book for adults. But it would be helpful for students to have a knowledgeable teacher to explain some of the basic moral principles that come into play. St. Gianna’s death is also a good illustration of ways Catholics can choose to handle end-of-life situations.
Conclusion: This one isn’t leaving my shelf. Recommended if you want an enjoyable, readable introduction to St. Gianna’s life, encouragement in your vocation and efforts at holiness, and a real-life example of moral choices in medical ethics and end-of-life issues.
Thanks again to the Catholic Company for their on-going efforts to keep bloggers from ever getting bored. I received this book in exchange for an honest review, and it’s not my fault I picked a book I happened to like (okay it is — but I didn’t know it would be this good in these ways). In addition to their work of mercy instructing the ignorant, The Catholic Company would like me to remind you they are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.
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