Review: My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt


November 23, 2012 by Heidi

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt book coverTitle: My Book of Life by Angel [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Martine Leavitt
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction/Contemporary (set in 1980s)
Published: September 4th, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR
Format: Hardcover; 256 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher.

When sixteen-year-old Angel meets Call at the mall, he buys her meals and says he loves her, and he gives her some candy that makes her feel like she can fly. Pretty soon she’s addicted to his candy, and she moves in with him. As a favor, he asks her to hook up with a couple of friends of his, and then a couple more. Now Angel is stuck working the streets at Hastings and Main, a notorious spot in Vancouver, Canada, where the girls turn tricks until they disappear without a trace, and the authorities don’t care. But after her friend Serena disappears, and when Call brings home a girl who is even younger and more vulnerable than her to learn the trade, Angel knows that she and the new girl have got to find a way out.

My Book of Life by Angel was one of those books that I challenged myself to read.  You know the type, you see it sitting there being all of these things that are interesting but not at all what you look for in a book.  The type that every once in a while you make yourself pick up, just to prove that you haven’t let yourself be neatly filed and categorized as a reader.  My Book of Life by Angel is a very recently placed Historical Fiction, set in the 1980s in Vancouver, BC.  It focuses on heavy issues such as drug addiction, forced prostitution, and child prostitution, all at a time when a city and its police force have more or less turned a blind eye to the many women who were going missing.  Additionally, it is a novel written in verse, a style that has been a deal breaker word for me for some time.

My Book of Life By Angel was not an easy or comfortable read by any means, but it was well worth pushing myself to pick up.  The use of verse for this story is stylistically counter-intuitive.  Instinctively, I would state that it is a bad choice to choose such a format for such heavy subject matter, but my reaction while reading was quite the opposite.  If Angel’s story had been written in prose rather than verse, there is a good chance that I would not have been able to stomach it.  As is, Angel’s story is told through words that are beautifully rendered and reflect perfectly the fractured mindset of a drug addled girl slowly surfacing to real life.

Angel is the perfect character to open this world to us.  She is not free of blame, it is clear that she made a myriad of bad decisions that led her to her current state, but as she becomes more and more determined to break free of the life she has let herself be bound to it becomes so easy to root for her.  It is Angel’s fault that she has become a prostitute, but it isn’t her’s alone.  Blame also rests on the shoulders of her father, who turned his back on his daughter who so obviously needed him, and mostly Call, the man who convinces Angel he loves her and turns her into a whore.  Angel wishes she could rewrite her story, and throughout My Book of Life By Angel she begins to see that while she cannot rewrite it, she can still work to change the ending.

The book begins almost in a jumble with the flighty thoughts of a brain jumping from drug use and recent withdrawal.  Our horror at Angel’s state only increases as she becomes more sober.  As she is better able to perceive the world around her and the acts that are done to her body, we bear witness.  Angel’s mind is a simple, but insightful one.  One where she only fully comprehends what has happened to herself when she sees the opportunity to stop it from happening to another.  Angel proves that it is so much easier at times to help others than to help ourselves, but that sometimes these things go hand in hand.

In My Book of Life by Angel, Angel is chillingly aware of a number of women of her profession that have gone missing and the beleif that a murderous man is behind these disappearances.  While this plot may not have been our primary concern while reading, it was one of the more disturbing aspects of the story.  Martine Leavitt’s author’s note reveals that from 1983 to 2002 at least 49 women went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  I am rarely so sickened or angered as I was by the information that the Vancouver police continued to do nothing to stop these disappearances for nearly two decades.  They insisted these disappearances were not the work of a serial killer, and did nothing to stop or solve cases they deemed unimportant because the women involved were sex workers.  This includes one victim who escaped with stab wounds, whose testimony (which pointed to the man who was eventually arrested and confessed) was thrown out because she was not considered credible.  This case was utterly disgusting to me, though I am glad that Martine Leavitt selected to highlight it in the backdrop of My Book of Life By Angel.  It’s the type of horror we should not forget.

My Book of Life by Angel is not everyone’s type of book–heck, it’s certainly not my type of book, but it’s one I’m very glad I took a short time out of my life to read.  As Angel points out, we cannot have happy endings without the possibility of sad endings, an idea Leavitt plays with until the end.  I’m not sure what happened after the close of My Book of Life by Angel.  If it’s the ending I hope for, or the ending I fear–but I love balancing on a thin strand between the two, which is something Angel does excellently.

After a while
Call said, Angel, do you love me?
I said yes.
But do you really love me?
And I said yes.
Would you do anything for me?
And I said

Now I know
in a single breath of yes, yes,
you can hear your soul
leaking out of your mouth.
A yes can change you inside,
make all the rules go sky-why-not…

All those clothes and dinners
and all that candy–
Call said, I’m out of cash,
can you help me out?
do you really love me?

At first it was just to be nice to a friend…
and then a friend of a friend…

As soon as I knew what Call had made me,
the first time a man said in a word what I was
and I couldn’t even say that’s not true–as soon as that happened

I knew I could not bring that word home
even if I wanted to–
Jeremy and I weren’t even allowed to say stupid
or hate–
my dad would never allow a word like me.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:
Wtf people?  I just put up this post about how I love books with Death as a character, and all of you failed to point me toward Leavitt’s Keturah and Lord Death.  It has some pretty mixed reviews on Goodreads among the many friends of mine who’ve read it, which has me even more intrigued–I’ll certainly be checking it out!

Recommended for:  Those who like issue-heavy contemporary/recent history books and books in verse.  This is a great quick read!  Two hours or so to knock out another count on that Goodreads goal for the year. 😛

Real life repercussions of reading this book:
This was my first book in verse that I’ve successfully read, and you know what?  I really liked the style.  Now I really want to pick up some of the verse books that have been languishing on my TBR like Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and Song of the Sparrow.  Do you have a favorite book in verse?  If so, let me know what it is!

Get a second opinion:
Good Books and Good Wine – “If you’re looking for a book to show you life at it’s darkest, but also give you some hope read Martine Leavitt’s My Book Of Life By Angel.”


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  1. Woah! I would have never heard of this one, so thanks for putting it on my radar, Heidi! I don’t know if I’ll pick it up, especially since I’m so wary of issue-heavy contemporaries, but it seems like one that is too good to miss, so hopefully I’ll read it sometime soon. Lovely review, dearest! :)

    P.S. – I started Daughter of the Forest and…it’s amazing! I already sobbed my eyes out once and I’m a little less than half-way through, so I’m sure Marillier will bring me to tears again, no doubt. I also bought Son of the Shadows, so hopefully that’ll arrive soon! Thanks for the fabulous recommendations! 😀

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, as I said in my review, this really isn’t my kind of book, which makes me feel odd recommending it, but I WAS glad that I read it. It was worth it!

      And I’m totally FLAILING with excitement that you are reading DotF. Seriously. I cried SO MUCH at that same part, and yes, you will probably cry some more. I hope you love Son of the Shadows as well. I think I love DotF more, but SotS is a very VERY close second.

  2. OH YES YES. Like I’ll admit this is my sort of book — I just gobble up verse and issue books (especially Ellen Hopkins and the like), so for me yes it’s a challenge to read the sad bits. However, I ultimately took the ending which is kind of open, to be hopeful.

    I’m so glad you’ve reviewed My Book Of Life By Angel, it deserves more attention!

    • Heidi says:

      I agree, April! It’s one that really does deserve more attention, I thought that it was so well done even if it was out of my comfort zone. I really love open endings like this, and I did take it as hopeful as well, despite the underlying question.

  3. OH STOP STOP WHOA. I DID NOT KNOW THIS WAS VERSE. I love verse so, so much. Especially the hard stuff. I know, this is not my norm.

    “Instinctively, I would state that it is a bad choice to choose such a format for such heavy subject matter, but my reaction while reading was quite the opposite.” –> I ALWAYS tend to think that I have an easier time handling the issue-heavy books while they are in verse format. The Ellen Hopkins-type books, for example. And THEY are some of my all-time, absolute favorites forever and ever, amen. I have’t been reading verse too terribly long but I’ve found that I love the beauty of the words – the brevity too – and the ability of these authors to create a palatable story out of conditions that are usually so harsh. Like Angel’s, for example. These verse stories don’t beat around the bush and use the fluffy language. They go straight to the point. They tell us exactly what we need to know, and yet somehow they are poetic enough to feel like dancing and clouds sometimes even at the toughest times in the story. Such an odd mixture of pretty and ugly, no? Am I even making any sense?

    I think what I’m trying to say is that I love verse novels so much I can’t even explain how much. And I didn’t know this book was one. So thank you for pointing it out. And even though it is tough, I’ll most likely certainly check it out. Ellen Hopkins is my favorite for several reasons, in terms of recommendations. They’re hardcore, though. But SO GOOD. Like a marathon.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, Asheley, you described the use of verse for an issue-heavy book so so perfectly! That is precisely how I felt about this one. It’s horrifying because it’s like a slap in the face, but also so beautiful. I’m really impressed that with so few well-chosen words Martine Leavitt was able to tell this story and really make me feel all of the things I felt!

  4. Great review. I love Martine’s work, and My Book of Life by Angel really blew me away. The verse makes the whole thing more poignant but also easier to handle. And the writing in this one is soooo good.

    Did you ever get the chance to read Keturah and Lord Death? I liked it too, but The Dollmage is probably my second favorite Martine Leavitt book after Angel. (Haven’t read Heck Superhero yet, but I’ve heard it’s fabulous as well.)

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, I feel that I couldn’t have read this story in any other format, and I’m so glad I went out of my box for this. I still haven’t read Keturah and Lord Death, but now I’ll have to check out Dollmage too!

  5. […] the similar subjects better and would recommend those instead.  For instance, both Criminal and My Book of Life By Angel provide a more emotionally charged looks at a similarly gritty […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.