My Book of Life By Angel
by Martine Leavitt
Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2012
The grief surrounding her mother’s death and the havoc it wreaks on her family pushes Angel to breaking. She slips onto the streets, and soon is in thrall to charming, malevolent Call and his “candy.” At first she’s doing favors for his friends, but in short order she finds herself working a corner to support herself and her habit. She is broken and resigned, until Call shows up one evening with eleven-year-old Melli in tow. Angel searches her soul to find an untapped store of resilience and resolve, and sets out to rescue Melli, and maybe, herself.
Leavitt writes in stunning, atmospheric free verse, and somehow manages to craft crystalline beauty from brutal, harrowing circumstances. Angel’s first-person narrative swings between blunt resignation and fierce defiance, beautifully articulating the confused despair of her gradual destitution and the clambering strength of her willful climb back up. It’s a staggering piece of writing–searing and evocative–and leaves the young reader with a profound understanding of the complex circumstances some teens face, full of empathy and free from judgment.
I’m really not much of an adrenaline junky. Sure, I like a roller coaster as much as the next person (though I am now, sadly, too tall to ride most of them) and I’d follow Jason Bourne anywhere. But friends will tell you that all I catch of a screen thriller is what I can see between the fingers pressed firmly over my eyes. I hear even less (my thumbs are blocking my ears). And it takes a good nine hours to watch one from the comfort of my couch, what with all the pausing and walking around the living room shaking out my hands. And yet I find myself strangely addicted to the trailer for the new Alfonso Cuarón film Gravity. The first time I saw it in a theater the hair on my arms was standing up for a good five minutes, and I have worn out the various views on the YouTube (like this one and this one).
And it all has me wondering about a corollary interest in take-your-breath-away books. What are the reads that have left me gasping?
The first thing that came to my mind is Geraldine McCaughrean’s Printz-winning The White Darkness which, quite frankly, scared the bejeezus out of me. This story of a shy girl with a hearing impairment and an historically accurate imaginary friend who accompanies her uncle on a mysterious trip to Antarctica compounds the menace of an unhinged villain with all of the terror mother nature can muster. Good night that book is scary.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater raises hairs in an entirely different way. This is the story of the deadly races that happen every autumn along the shores of a Celtic Island where men capture and train capaill uisce, fierce, carnivorous horses that rise from the sea. And this time, for the first time, young Puck will be the first woman in the race. Much hangs in the balance in this taut drama, but it is Stiefvater’s evocation of the fearsome horses themselves, all teeth and muscle and blood and bone, that is so spine-chilling.
And then we’ve got something like The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong that delivers its fright straight through the realm of possibility. Three boys set out on a year-long sail around the world with their father, broken by the recent death of their mother and clearly spinning outside the reach of responsibility. Tensions on the little craft are bad enough, but when the boys awake one morning to find the deck empty and their father gone, fear sets in. Slowly the boys’ resilience weakens as life becomes increasingly precarious and survival starts to slip from their grasp.
And what about you? What are your favorite tales of terror? Hit us up!