At the beginning of Veronica Gonzalez Peña's devastating and triumphant novel, a seven-year-old Julia is dragged away from her three bewildered sisters and is soon shipped off to her distant uncle in California. Why exactly Julia is given away remains unclear: Is it to spare her the family's savage existence in the Mexican desert? Or punish her for wanting too much attention? Or just get her out of the way in order to make room for the next-born child? Each question circles back to Julia's mentally unhinged mother, Claudia, who can hardly do more than throw a cold torta at her daughters before exploding into a tirade and disappearing. Painful and raw, The Sad Passions is a novel that explores the darkest complexities of family histories and our hopeless desire to make sense of insanity—if only to arrive at a different conclusion than Claudia's youngest daughter does when she says, "Confusion and resentment and anger were the only real things, the only things I could hold onto." Because, of course, there are plenty of other things to hold onto, including forgiveness, whose elusive mysteries are worth not only the pursuit of a novel but also a life.
— Leigh Newman
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 13, 2013