books and reading

Book Review: My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt

Angel meets Call at the mall when he catches her stealing one of the display shoes.  He tells her he loves her and gives her candy to make her feel as though she can fly.  It isn’t long before she’s addicted to his candy, and when her dad throws her out, she moves in with him.  Then he asks her to help him out and hook up with a few of his friends.  Before Angel even knows what’s really happening, she’s working the streets in Vancouver.  When her friend Serena disappears without a trace and no one seems to care, Angel knows things are getting even worse.  Then Call brings home a very young girl, and Angel knows it’s time to get out–if not for herself, than for this new girl.

I hadn’t heard of Leavitt’s haunting, beautiful verse novel until it was nominated for the Cybils.  I’ll be honest: the cover doesn’t do anything for me, and verse novels make me uneasy in general.  This is a perfect example of how I can still be surprised and blown away by a book.  My Book of Life by Angel is an absolutely stellar read, well worth a reader’s time.  This is one of my favorite books of 2012.

Leavitt uses her sparse verse and creative spacing to help illustrate Angel’s constricted life and her drug-induced fog.  As she tries to figure out what to do with Mellie, the 11-year-old girl Call has brought home, she also fights off how dopesick she is.  There’s a lot going on here and requires a fairly close reading.  Leavitt plays around with both plot and theme, and it is Angel’s frequent interactions with “John the john” which proves to be the catalyst to her awakening.  This man makes her read from Book 9 of Milton’s Paradise Lost, and it isn’t long before Angel becomes aware of the fact that words have power.

Grounded in fact, Leavitt’s book fictionally explores the disappearances of dozens of women in Vancouver.  This book is powerful, gripping, unbelievably moving, and one that readers won’t be able to put down. I can’t recommend this one enough, Gentle Readers.

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt. Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2012. Library copy. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.

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