Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Book of Life by Angel

This is a gripping story about a teenage sex worker trying to survive on the streets, during the Picton murders.

It starts when Call sees sixteen-year-old Angel stealing shoes at the mall. He just buys her Chinese food at first, but before long Call is supplying her with "candy" and saying he loves her. Angel ends up living with him and walking the Kiddy Stroll in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside -- a neighbourhood with a reputation for being the poorest postal code in the country, with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. 

When Angel’s best friend Serena goes missing, Angel starts to pay attention to the stories of other girls who have disappeared, and a mysterious Mr. P. who drives a van with tinted windows.  The girls who get in the van never come back.  They don’t go missing. They’re dead.  

Then Call brings home another girl. Her name is Melli, and she is just eleven years old, and suddenly Angel realizes what she must do. Save Melli at any cost, and perhaps save herself at the same time.

How Angel ends up on the street is very believable, and probably more common than we want to admit.  Her mother dies of cancer, and her father isn’t coping well. He doesn’t know what to do with Angel. Angel starts staying away from home – mostly hanging out at the mall.  And then she starts shoplifting.  She wants to be home, but after meeting Call, and getting caught with drugs, her father kicks her out.  He doesn’t want her around her younger brother.  And so begins her life of prostitution and drugs.  Every time she tries to leave, Call threatens to harm Angel’s younger brother. But Call underestimates Angel.   He doesn’t count on her caring about Melli. And he doesn’t count on her inner strength.  

I was drawn to this book, because I think Martine Leavitt is a brilliant author (I loved Tom Finder and Heck Superhero), and also because she based her novel on the true stories of the women who disappeared and were later found murdered, on the Picton farm. I imagine it’s difficult to research and write such a story, but Leavitt told it with such sensitivity and respect for the characters, and without smoothing things over.  

Her use of narrative verse quickly brings the reader right into the heart of the story, and that’s where you stay.  It was hard to put down and I ended up reading it in one sitting.  Like other great books written in verse, when it’s done as well as this, every line counts.  

I think this book will have adult crossover appeal.  It’s a grim story, but one that is important to tell, and Martine Leavitt has told it beautifully.  

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