A Psalm for Lost Girls

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
A Psalm for Lost Girls Book Poster Image
Teens seek truth, chase kidnapper in compelling saint tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

First-time author Katie Bayerl paints a vivid picture of daily life in a Massachusetts fishing town, from the dicey economy to the deep cultural traditions. Bits of Portuguese and Spanish (including the occasional Spanish swear word). Details about canonization and how people are declared saints.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of friendship, the bond between sisters, kindness, empathy, finding the truth -- and respecting other people's need for their own version of it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Central characters Tess, Callie, and Danny all emerge as believable, real-life teens dealing with relatable, real-life issues -- especially trying to find a path through other people's expectations. They don't always do the right thing, in their own eyes or those of others, but learn from their mistakes and work hard to make things right.  Friends, neighbors, and family members old and young show kindness, support, and wisdom.

Violence

Tess, the central, character, dies young because of an unsuspected heart defect. Much of the plot involves a 6-year-old girl who's been kidnapped. An adult character's sister was killed by their abusive parents in the past. A character is struck and killed by a car when he runs into its path.

Sex

Strong implications that some teen characters are having sex, but descriptions don't go beyond kissing, hands under clothing, and clothing coming off. A "Truth or Dare" scene has teen characters calling the convent on the phone to "pant like you're having wild sex." Tess and Callie's single mom is always lecturing them not to make the same mistakes she did with boys, which left her with two children and no dad in sight.

Language

Multiple "f--k," "s--t," "ass" variants. Also "boobs," "crap," "prick," "goddamn," "pendeja," "mierda."

Consumerism

Occasional product mentions, e.g. Chuck Taylors, Hyundai, McDonald's, for scene setting. A fishing boat is called "Avon Lady."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen characters (as well as adults) drink beer. In the past, one spent a lot of time smoking weed. A local former beauty queen whose life went downhill after she got drunk at a party is a cautionary example to all.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Psalm for Lost Girls, Katie Bayerl's debut novel, is about a 17-year-old girl who's suddenly venerated as a saint even before her untimely death -- and how she and her left-behind loved ones cope with everything from crushing, anxiety-inducing pressure to perform "miracles" to long-buried family secrets. The story's steeped in Catholic practices and Portuguese culture in a present-day Massachusetts fishing town. Faith, miracles, and the need to believe are strong themes -- and so is the quest of younger sister Callie and secret boyfriend Danny to set the record straight about the flesh-and-blood girl they loved, who was a lot more complicated than a plaster saint. There's strong language in English and Spanish, and while some characters are in sexual relationships, there's no explicit description.  A child is kidnapped; an adult fatally struck by a car; a child in the past beaten to death by abusive parents. Plenty of positive messages and hard-won wisdom about friendship, courage, family, kindness -- and cutting other people slack.

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What's the story?

A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS finds events taking on a life of their own after 17-year-old Tess da Costa starts hearing voices -- and one of their messages saves a local fishing boat from doom. Overnight the rumor mill in the small seafaring town of New Avon, Massachusetts, declares Tess a saint -- and hysteria only grows when she suddenly dies of an undiagnosed heart condition. As shrines and fervent pilgrims pop up all over town, a 6-year-old girl who's been missing for months suddenly reappears, a "miracle"! Meanwhile, Tess' secret boyfriend, Danny, and younger sister, Callie, are determined to save her from being turned ito something she's not -- and figure solving the kidnapping is a good way to debunk the "miracle" talk.

Is it any good?

First-time author Katie Bayerl weaves a compelling tale of miracles, mysteries, family secrets, and the quest for truth as a teen's death and a lost child's reappearance launch religious hysteria. Told from the alternating perspectives of central characters, A Psalm for Lost Girls shows relatable teens coming to terms with overwhelming forces, from Tess, who has to deal with being thought a saint while she's just trying to go to high school like a regular person, to her sister Callie, who's determined to save her real, funny, flawed sister from being turned into something she never was now that she's dead. A lot of past tragedy and abuse comes home to roost in the story, but there's a lot of love, humor and wisdom.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how an ordinary person comes to be regarded as a saint in A Psalm for Lost Girls. What other stories about saints do you know? Do you think the saints are good role models, or do you just think they're not very real?

  • How would you feel if someone you loved died -- and people started saying all kinds of things about them that you knew very well weren't true? What could you do about it?

  • How does it change your life when something you do or say is suddenly on TV and all over the internet? Has this ever happened to you or someone you know?

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