November 23, 2012 by Heidi
Title: 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
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.”