Sarah Domet’s debut novel, The Guineveres, is a testament to faith. Domet has found a way to weave the stories of four orphaned teens into a sermon of sorts about choices, consequences and redemption. These girls’ story gives us something to believe in.
The Guineveres have been left one by one at the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent. The girls share the same name, but that’s where the similarities end. They had vastly different experiences in their former Unholy Life.
Despite their differences, they form a bond of sisterhood that will hold them through a tumultuous year. Faith and loyalties will be tested, hopes and dreams will be shattered, but will love and friendship prevail?
Our narrator, Vere, is the only true believer. When all else fails, she can always turn to her faith. She is committed to the Guineveres, even if she doesn’t always agree with them. She is probably the weakest, but the Bible says the meek shall inherit the earth.
Vere is the moral compass for the group and holds steady in her beliefs from beginning to end.
Gwen is the polar opposite of Vere. Blonde and pretty, Gwen brings the sass of a girl who’s been around the block. It’s Gwen who teaches the girls to stain their lips with fruit juice like lipstick. It’s Gwen who shows the girls how to stuff their bras with tissues, and brushes her hair exactly 100 strokes every night.
Not surprisingly, it’s also Gwen who tests the limits and skirts the rules. What will Gwen inherit?
Ginny is the sentimental artist. When she feels things, she feels them deeply. She suffered great loss in her Unholy Life and, even in the circle of the Guineveres, she is insecure.
Ginny isn’t a leader, but she also won’t follow blindly. She clings to her memories but wants to believe in the future. Unfortunately, her suffering and losses don’t end in the convent.
Win is the tough girl, all bravado and swagger. With Win in the group, the other girls in the convent make way for the Guineveres. But it’s also Win who is the peacemaker. She puts Gwen in her place when she gets too big for her britches. It’s Win who braids the girls’ hair in a soothing way. Win looks out for the Guineveres, protects them.
The girls’ “family” is rounded out by Sister Fran and Father James. They’re as close to parental figures as the girls can get, and they therefore love and loathe them equally. They want the adults’ approval as much as they want to get away from them.
It’s impossible for the girls to imagine surviving this convent life until they turn 18. So when four wounded and comatose soldiers are brought to the convent sick ward, the girls see this as a sign. Could these boys be their way out?
Just when things seem hopeless for the Guineveres, Domet weaves the story of a female saint into the novel. She shares the divine sagas of the saints in an almost seamless way. It’s as if the Guineveres are to be reminded of true suffering and the miracles of devout faith.
Domet knows just when to return focus to the girls and teach a lesson at the same time.
The Guineveres is a wondrous look at the aches and pains of growing up. We all remember that adolescent cloud of confusion. Imagine all of that angst tenfold while living in a convent.
When it all shakes out, who you were before and who you become is all shaped by what you believe in. Vere, Gwen, Win and Ginny believe in each other and the family they created. Maybe that’s enough.
- By Sarah Domet
- Flatiron Books, $25.99
- Audio: Macmillan Audio, $57.99; narrated by voiceover veteran Erin Bennett.