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Liam Callanan garnered sweeping praise for his debut novel, The Cloud Atlas. Following that marvelous work of historical fiction, he now turns his keen eye toward contemporary dilemmas, with a narrator you will not soon forget.

Told from the perspective of theology teacher Emily Hamilton, All Saints is set in a Catholic high school on the California coast. As each evocative scene unfolds, Emily tells us about the men in her life (saints and sinners alike), piecing together the chapters of her romantic history with a mixture of wistfulness and wry humor. Woven throughout are her reports on the angst her students face, as well as the angst they cause, until their storylines merge with hers in a startling turn of events. A powerful rumination on temptation and truth, All Saints is sure to inspire many meaningful conversations.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Liam Callanan’s All Saints. We hope they will enrich your experience of this moving novel.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. How did it affect your reading to know that a male author had created Emily, a pitch-perfect female narrator? How would you characterize the way she sees the world?

2. What was your initial understanding of Emily’s revelation that she had kissed a boy, for the first time in her life, at age fifty? How did your impressions of her shift as her marriage history unfolded?

3. Discuss the irony of Emily’s classroom topics. How do the students’ oral reports, and the concept of saints and popes, contrast with the circumstances of modern life presented in the novel? How do you define “saint”?

4. What do the two coasts—New York and California—mean to Emily? How does she perceive the cultural differences and landscapes of these two settings? What types of dividing lines are created between the novel’s two parts, Fall and Spring?

5. Were any of your teachers like Emily? Did Edgar, Cecily, and Paul remind you of any of your high-school classmates? What makes All Saints both an unusual and a very typical high school?

6. What comfort does Emily derive from Mrs. Ramirez? How does it compare to the comfort she derives from going to church, and in particular from being Catholic? Share your own experiences with mystery and faith.

7. Compare and contrast Emily’s husbands: dear departed Andrew, Gil of the slot-machine wedding, and Gavin the priest. Is there a theme or progression? What does she expect from men by the time we meet her?

8. Was it right that Emily eventually took responsibility for the kiss with Edgar? Do Edgar and Emily imagine each other accurately? What power do they have over each other?

9. Discuss the notion of secrecy that permeates many of the characters in All Saints. Is secrecy a form of dishonesty? What role does confession (informal and otherwise) play in the novel? What does Paul’s essay reveal in chapter nine?

10. In chapter seven, Emily unwittingly confronts Martin about his high-school sweetheart. How did you react to his response? Should he have had to take a vow of celibacy at all? Discuss the various temptations confronted by the characters in the novel.

11. Why doesn’t Emily go to Italy with Martin? Under other circumstances, would he have made a good fourth husband? What do you predict for Emily’s future? What does All Saints ultimately say about the cycles of birth and death?

12. What did you discover through Liam Callanan’s portrayals of unusually devoted church workers, such as salty Father Junghanns, or the nuns who bore the scars of brutality in Central America?

13. What aspects of courage does the author paint in The Cloud Atlas and All Saints? How are heroism and humanity presented in each of these novels?

14. Discuss the nature of belief in All Saints. Not just spiritual belief, but also the belief people have in each other, and in the concepts of friendship, love, commitment, and forgiveness?

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