My Book of Life by Angel
by Leavitt, Martine

Sixteen-year-old Angel struggles to free herself from the trap of prostitution and drug abuse in which she is caught.

Martine Leavitt has written several award-winning novels for young adults, including Keturah and Lord Death, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Heck Superhero, a finalist for the Governor General's Award. She lives in Alberta, Canada

*Starred Review* Sixteen-year-old Angel's life on the street begins when Call, the man she thinks is her boyfriend, gets her hooked on "candy," and before she knows it, she is forced to sell herself to support him-and her habit. But when Call brings home an 11-year-old girl, Melli, and demands that Angel train her for the street, Angel realizes that things must change. However, change may require a miracle. This novel is itself something of a miracle: a spot-on, compassionate-and passionate-account of a heartbreakingly horrible life. Perhaps there are angels looking after Angel, though; her efforts to save Melli and herself are heroic and, ultimately, inspired. In this novel in verse, Leavitt has created in Angel's voice a perfect mix of innocence and experience, a blend that is underscored by seamlessly introducing passages from Milton's Paradise Lost into her narrative. Death, too, is present in Angel's life as women she knows begin vanishing from the street-victims, perhaps, of a serial killer. The story is loosely based on the epidemic of murders that began in Vancouver in 1983 and continued through 2002. But Angel's story is uniquely her own, and Leavitt has done a brilliant job of imagining and recording it. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

The tragedy of discarded children is skillfully explored in this stunning novel in verse. Angel, 16, pretends she lives at the mall, helping herself to shoes on display. She falls prey to a pimp named Call, who watches her shoplift, buys her meals and gives her "candy" (crack). Knowing that "it's the ones from good homes / who follow orders best," Call persuades Angel to do him a favor with chilling ease. Turning tricks on a street corner in Vancouver, she meets Serena, who teaches her to fend for herself with "dates" and encourages her to write her life. When Serena goes missing, Angel vows to clean up her act. Dope sick, she slowly wakes up to Call's evil, weathering the torments of her captive life with courage. The deliberate use of spacing emphasizes the grim choice confronting Angel when Call brings home a new girl, 11-year-old Melli. Leavitt's mastery of form builds on the subtle interplay between plot and theme. "John the john" is a divorced professor who makes Angel read Book 9 from Milton's Paradise Lost, inadvertently teaching her the power that words, expression and creativity have to effect change. Passages from Milton frame the chapters, as Angel, in her own writing, grasps her future. Based on the factual disappearance of dozens of Vancouver women, this novel of innocence compromised is bleak, but not without hope or humor. An astonishing, wrenching achievement. (author's note) (Fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Bid her well beware ...

When Serena went missing
I looked in all the places she might go
and she wasn't anywhere,
just like a lot of the other girls weren't anywhere.
I thought oh no
when Serena didn't show up at her corner one night
and not the next night or the next,
and then she didn't show up to church Wednesday.
She always went to church Wednesday
and told her man Asia it was for free hot dogs
but it was really for church-
she told me that secret.
Once a man came
who smelled so bad everybody pulled away,
but Serena said, welcome, you are with friends,
have a hot dog.
She said she picked me to love
because of my name Angel and because of my face,
but then she loved me just because.
She said that.
She said her heart's desire was to see an angel.
She said, if I could see an angel
that would mean I'm still God's little girl.

She said,
Angel, if you get scared sometime
on a bad date,
do this-
She stared big-eyed at nothing over my head
and said
angel, angel ...
I laughed, said, you see an angel?
She said, no not yet,
but just saying it or thinking about one
has powers.
Really, Serena? I said.
ha ha really?
you think there is such a thing as angels?
She said soft, maybe.
But she meant yes really.

The first time Call told me
to get out there
and me scared and not knowing anything
and Call watching from the café across the street
saying no more candy for free-
that first time Serena said, I'll tell you what I know.
She said, your eyes be always on the man
you don't have eyes for anyone but him
you don't have business with anybody but him-
that's the only way he can stand it,
if you aren't alive except when he needs you to be.
Serena taught me about drinks and dinner,
told me how to make it go fast, how to fake it.
She said, and don't you forget
your name suits you.

When she wasn't at church Wednesday
I said, Asia, where is she?
He said, she's run out on me.
I thought, but did not say,
she gave me her running-away money
to hide under my mattress
and it is still there.

Last church Wednesday
Serena said to me,
Angel, you write about Nena
who had a pretty house
and pretty parents
and was a ten minute walk from Micky D's.
One day she didn't go home for supper
and then she didn't go home for curfew
and then she didn't go home.
Nena went for a burger
and ended up at Hastings and Main.
Her man, the one who found her, lonesome,
said to his friends,
it's the ones from good homes
who follow orders best-
it's the ones from good families
who have the best social skills,
who never learned how to fight-
they make the best money.

Serena said to me,
tell the story of Connie
who said, I'm leaving the life behind,
who said, I'm going to testify against the man
who brought me here and dogged me awful.
She said, I'm going to protect other girls
and get that boy in jail.
On courtroom day, there he was,
wearing a pink tie,
and in every seat of the courtroom
were his buddies,
saying with eyes
if he goes down
so do you.
Write how Connie failed to prove to the judge
that she was in imminent and present danger
so her man walked away
and Connie got found dead
strangled by a pink tie.

Serena said,
John the john has made you read that poem,
has taught you fancy words and fancy grammar-
Angel, you tell about Blood Alley
and Pigeon Park-
the cardboard tents
and the water rats
and the delousing showers,
the SROs and the cockroaches,
the people drinking out of puddles
and all the girls going missing ...
Tell all that, Angel.

I said no.
She said yes.
I said no.
She said yes.
I said no that is dumb.
Then Serena didn't show at church Wednesday,
and I got a book to write in.

I stopped to listen to the street preacher
who talked about God's top ten
and how everything you do is recorded in a book of life
and angels will read from it someday.
Is this what you want your story to be? he said,
Is this what you want everyone to hear?
I imagined that,
to hear everything about me
read out loud by an angel
like I used to read to my little brother Jeremy.
I held my notebook
and wished I could write my story over
and in this new story I gave up Call's candy forever
and I called my dad and he came and got me
and him and me and Jeremy
drove away from Call forever,
and when we got there,
there would be Serena.

So I tried to make it come true.
I called Dad from the pay phone near the library
and it was sorry this number is no longer in service
so I wrote him a letter and even mailed it,
Serena my friend is missing
I am cleaning up my act like you said
and I vow my deepest vow
that I won't take Call's candy forever.
I wrote on the front of my book
My Book of Life by Angel
Which Is My Real Name,
and This Is My Real Story
for Maybe an Angel to Read.
I wrote in my book,
Serena, when you come back
I will tell you about my vow
and my letter to Dad
and I am sorry I laughed at your idea of angels,
I want an angel too.

I wrote
my angel wouldn't be one of the long dead
who has forgotten being alive,
who is used to sitting on a throne
and being buddies with God.
My angel would be a fresh-dead one,
still longing for chocolate cake,
still wishing she could come back
and find out who won American Idol.
That's the one I want-
just a junior one
who might not mind saving
a girl like me.

Text copyright © 2012 by Martine Leavitt

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