Though I’d rather not think about how long it’s been since my teen years, I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in teen fiction – Catholic teen fiction in particular.
A.J. Cattapan’s Angelhood could easily have fit into my October reviews, Dealing with Demons. It explores the forces of good and evil (angels and demons) that either pray for or prey upon humans. Roland West, Loner also includes an other-worldy dimension, the communion of saints. Theresa Linden‘s true-to-life novel is the perfect intersection of the natural and supernatural. Finally, Cynthia Toney‘s second novel in The Birdface Series, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, is planted firmly on earth, as young Wendy Robichaud navigates a multitude of big changes in her life. All three are relatable stories of hope and blossoming maturity suitable for young teens and up.
Angelhood offers important messages about hope and regret through the first-person account of 17-year-old Nanette, who, in the first chapter, puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. From there she embarks on her “angelhood.”
Despite the name, the body-less souls, and the acquisition of wings, the period of “angelhood” bears more resemblance to purgatory than angelic life. In order to gain her own redemption, Nanette is assigned a charge whom she must prevent from making the same fatal mistake she did in taking her own life.
Nanette shadows a friendless, angsty poet named Vera, whose mother has succumbed to breast cancer. Despite Nanette’s frustration with Vera’s anti-social, “loser” ways, she takes her task seriously and struggles to find means to influence Vera’s behavior and help her see the wonderful possibilities around her.
Throughout the novel, Nanette and other angels, including her mentor of sorts, Warren, engage in spiritual warfare in defense of their charges and their own journey towards sainthood. Darkness and evil tempt and taunt, eager to draw souls to their eternal torment.
Interspersed with the action are Nanette’s memories – both those leading up to her suicide and happy memories with her sister, mother, and fellow theater geeks. Not only does concentrating on positive memories help her to grown in grace, it also enables her to see clearly the rashness of her life-ending decision.
While Nanette had seen death as an escape from her various troubles, she now realizes that not only has peace eluded, her but her absence has had profound effects on her family members as well. Her perspective matures and broadens, allowing her to see hope where in the past she felt despair and to recognize, in theater terms, that comedy and tragedy exist side by side.
There are several twists, turns, and revelations along the way to maintain tension and keep the reader engaged.
In the years following the suicide of a friend’s 15-year-old son (also by gun), I’ve become hypersensitive to its frequent portrayal in media. While its depiction here made me uncomfortable, the overriding, hopeful message integrated so seamlessly into Nanette’s memories and experiences convinced me of its valuable message for teens in particular, who think their life isn’t worth living and the world would be better off without them.
I listened to Angelhood on audiobook, which opens me to distraction more than reading print does. It can also be a challenge to hear over the noise level and kid interruptions in my home. I did, however, enjoy the narration, which fit Nanette’s voice well.
Roland West, Loner is a stellar teen novel! Entering the local public high school forces shy Roland to confront his fears and explore friendship and trust all while dealing with his mean and manipulative older brothers bent on ruining his life.
Dependent on the help of his new friend Peter, Roland’s vulnerability inclines him to share little bits of himself he ordinarily holds close to the vest.
Friendship with Peter also introduces him to sweet Caitlyn with her fiery hair and emerald eyes, gossipy Dominic, and even the guests at Peter’s family’s Bed & Breakfast.
They’ll be drawn into a mystery starting with a locked box and culminating in a life-changing experience for each of them, one that will bring Roland back to the faith of his childhood.
Theresa Linden’s superb writing will draw you in and her real-to-life characters will keep you reading to discover what Roland’s friend Peter has inherited, who’s after it, and whom Roland can trust.
With mystery, suspense, a hint of budding romance and an encounter with the Divine, Roland’s story has something for everyone.
10 Steps to Girlfriend Status picks up where Book 1 in the Bird Face series left off but could be read as a standalone without any problem.
Wendy is now a high school freshman, but that’s not the only or biggest change in her life. Her mother is about to remarry, which means the addition of a stepfather and two siblings as well as moving to a new house in a new neighborhood. Her surrogate grandmother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she’s navigating her first boy-girl relationship with crush David.
The beautiful thing about 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status is that Cynthia Toney doesn’t try to wrap it all up in a neat little package. Like life, there are fits and starts – bursts of maturity and clarity and slides into uncertainty and childishness. In other words, it’s real. There are arguments, disappointments, and loss but also forgiveness, new beginnings, and hope.
The strain in the relationship between Wendy and her step-sister/best friend Alice is spot on, repeated countless times the world over as one friend acquires a boyfriend before the other and an unintended rivalry is born. Neither Wendy nor Alice handle it perfectly, but they learn and they forgive.
The romance is sweet and perfect for young teens. I loved the little tidbits of life on the Cajun bayou intertwined in the story. A light mystery with a little history also adds a bit of suspense and intrigue. The intergenerational relationships are refreshing, especially since so often teen stories are populated with only teens.
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