By Martine Leavitt
Available now from Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan)
Review copy courtesy of Mrs. Yingling Reads
I really enjoy novels-in-verse. The good ones are propulsive. The poetry invites you to linger over the way things are said, yet pushes you along to flow of the words. I find it very easy to slip into the rhythm of the story in a way that rarely happens with prose fiction.
National Book Award Finalist Martine Leavitt tackles tough topics in MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL, much like YA-novel-in-verse-heavy-hitter Ellen Hopkins. The narrator Angel is sixteen, working as a prostitute in Vancouver. She ran away to live with her boyfriend Call, who unbeknownst to her was a pimp. He got her addicted to drugs and convinced her that she wouldn't ever be welcome in her home again. It's a series of events that's happened to far too many girls.
But two events happen that give Angel the strength to go cold turkey. The first is the disappearance of Serena, a more experienced hooker who watched out for her. The second is the appearance of Melli, a mute eleven year old who Call wants to turn out. Angel is not so inured to her life that she's okay with that. She works double shifts and keeps turning down the drugs in order to protect her young charge. But as long as Melli is with Call she'll never be safe.
There is a noticeable shift in Angel's narration as she becomes more coherent and able to think more clearly about multiple things at once. The poetry always felt like a logical way for Angel to express herself. One of the things that makes the most impact on her during her time with Call is PARADISE LOST, Milton's epic poem, which a john makes her read aloud.
MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL is for mature readers only. It deals with prostitution of underage girls, drug abuse, and murders that go ignored. They are all concepts people have to deal with eventually, but some younger readers may not be ready to handle the intensity of the novel yet. I had trouble with the end note, which discusses the real court cases and disappearances that inspired MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL.
This is a good book for anyone looking for a contemporary dealing with the darker side of modern life. I expect fans of the aforementioned Ellen Hopkins will really enjoy it.