Cover image for When we were saints
When we were saints
Nolan, Han.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Orlando : Harcourt, [2003]

Physical Description:
291 pages ; 22 cm
Inspired by his grandfather's last words and guided by a girl who believes they are saints, fourteen-year-old Archie sets out on a spiritual quest that takes him from southern Appalachia to the Cloisters Museum in New York City.
Reading Level:
800 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 12.0 72771.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.7 18 Quiz: 34074 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Archibald Caswell could never please his domineering granddaddy Silas. Now with Granddaddy gone, Archie finds himself lost, confused, and wondering what Granddaddy could possibly have meant by his dying words: "Young man, you are a saint!"
Clare Simpson knows exactly what Silas meant. She convinces Archie to dedicate his life to God, give up his possessions, steal his granddaddy's truck, and head north to the Cloisters in New York, where she and Archie secretly live after museum hours. For Clare, the journey is a return to the only place where she has felt happy and loved. For Archie, the pilgrimage leads him to a closer relationship with God--and a burning desire for home.

Author Notes

HAN NOLAN is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including the National Book Award winner Dancing on the Edge . She lives in New England.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-10. Nolan returns to familiar terrain, where mysticism intersects madness, in this absorbing look at what happens when religion moves to center stage in two teenagers' lives. On his deathbed, Grandfather calls Archie a saint, though they don't get along. This, along with a transcendental experience, makes Archie receptive to a strange girl saying he has been called to join her on a spiritual quest. Clare soon has Archie praying incessantly, surrendering his personal property, and going on a pilgrimage to the Cloisters Museum in New York. This unsettling, compelling story is at its best showing Archie's anguish as he tries to live up to Clare's ethereal goodness while struggling with the emptiness people often feel as they try to find God. Readers may be let down when Clare's religiosity, which has even produced the stigmata, turns out to be mental illness. Or is it? Where is that thin line crossed? There are logistical problems here that compromise credibility (Can a 14-year-old drive all the way to New York City undetected?), but in many ways, this is mostly a fable anyway--one that provokes as many questions as it answers. --Ilene Cooper Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nolan (Dancing on the Edge) poses thought-provoking questions about religious fervor, faith and reason in this mysterious tale of two lost teens. Archie Caswell, the 14-year-old orphaned narrator, is a lonely, confused adolescent shaken by some disturbing events in his small Southern town. First his best friend moves away, then his grandfather (and guardian) takes ill. On his deathbed, Archie's grandfather (known as a prophet) makes a proclamation, pointing at Archie and saying, "Young man, you are a saint!" Archie doesn't feel very godly, but he starts to put some stock in the prophecy when a newcomer, Clare Simpson, convinces him that they are both being called by God. Nolan delicately explores the gray area between dedication and fanaticism as readers, through Archie, become alternately mesmerized by Clare's goodness and deep spirituality, and puzzled by her actions. After Clare convinces Archie to join her on a pilgrimage to the Cloisters in New York City, the journey reveals deeper issues; he begins to wonder whether he and Clare are following the right path or chasing an illusion that could lead them to harm. This deeply philosophical and psychologically complex novel will hold readers rapt for the author's skillfully drawn characters and her exploration of the role of religion and faith in coming of age. While Archie is cast as a sympathetic hero struggling to find himself, the enigma of the more remote Clare is what keeps the pages turning; audience members are left to ponder whether she is truly a Christ figure or an emotionally disturbed teen bent on self-destruction. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Archie, 14, is a thorn in his Bible-thumping grandfather's side until, on his deathbed, he pokes Archie and utters his final words, "Young man, you are a saint." The teen is swayed into believing this might be a prophetic blessing by the arrival of the beautiful and enigmatic Clare, who declares that they are soul mates, inheritors of the spirit of the original Saints Francis and Clare. Archie is besotted by a powerful mixture of innocent longing and religious fervor while guilt-ridden that he might have caused his grandfather's death. He grows increasingly confused by Clare. Is she merely a masterful manipulator or is she driven by a devotion to a monastic life of simplicity, love, and forgiveness? Is she divine or crazy? Archie's newfound piety causes him to ignore important earthly human relationships and he and Clare set off on a pilgrimage to her "home," the Cloisters museum in New York City, by stealing his grandfather's truck and driving illegally. Archie is a caring and likable protagonist, a budding artist whose vulnerabilities are legion. Both teens are portrayed as being sincere, if over the top, in their search for religious fulfillment. Clare is clearly troubled, and by the end of the novel, she is institutionalized. The conclusion suggests that, for better or worse, the ecstatic "saint" Clare may someday return. This powerfully written novel is outstanding in terms of the intensity of the experience described. It may seem overlong to some young people but those teens with an interest in matters of faith will find it credible, scary, gripping, and gratifying.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Archibald Lee Caswell had named the still he and his best friend, Armory Mitchell, had built in the basement of his grandparents' home The Last Hurrah, in honor of Armory, who was moving with his family to Washington, D.C. He couldn't believe that a still they had made with their own hands would really produce any alcohol. That's why he agreed to the scheme when Armory showed him the instructions for building it. How could a few copper pipes, some scrap metal, a hose, and Armory's Coleman stove produce real alcohol? So Archie went along with the plan, and for a week the two of them carried the bits and pieces they had found for the still past the living-room windows, where his grandparents could have looked out and seen them at any moment, to the bulkhead and down the steps to the basement. But there they stood, to Archie's great surprise, facing each other with their first mugfuls of the homemade brew in their hands.They were an odd-looking twosome. Archie was tall for his fourteen years and lanky, but his freckled face and wide blue eyes still had the look of a little boy in them. Armory, also fourteen, was three inches shorter than his friend and built like a truck, with a voice that carried like a truck's horn. He had small dark eyes that glinted with mischief.Armory held his mug out toward Archie's and said, "Here's to our friendship. Long may it sail. Hurrah!"Archie clinked mugs with Armory and waited for his friend to take the first sip, but Armory said, "No, let's drink it together. Down the hatch in one big gulp."Archie sniffed the brownish liquid in his mug. It smelled like a toilet. "Are you sure we didn't overheat this stuff? The instructions said to keep...""I know what the instructions 'said.' You were the one looking at the thermometer every five seconds. You tell me."Archie sniffed again and shrugged. "I guess it's all right.""You wouldn't chicken out on me now, would you, Cas? The last hurrah and all that?""Have I ever?" Archie asked.Armory chuckled. "Well there was that cliff face you and your bike didn't seem to want to go down a while back.""I went, didn't I? And I beat you down it, too.""Yeah, on your face. What did you call that maneuver you did off the front end of your bike? The arc and splat?" Armory hooted and Archie shushed him. "My granddaddy will hear us.""He's gotta know we're down here. He'd be more suspicious if we were quiet. So come on"-Armory lifted his mug-"to the last hurrah!"Archie hesitated a second while the memory of the broken arm and ribs he had gotten from his ride down the cliff flashed through his mind. What's the worst that could happen this time? He lifted his mug and said, "To the last hurrah!" Then he and Armory drank the bitter liquid down, each in one long gulp. When they had finished, they looked at each other and laughed.Archie said, "Shh, he'll hear us." Then he laughed again and added, "This stuff's terrible. It tastes like we scraped the mold off these basement w Excerpted from When We Were Saints by Han Nolan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.