Style: Weak → Average
Attitude: Some Care Needed → Unobjectionable
In Brief: Dark and Light angelic beings closely akin to humans and who can possess humans to a limited extent. A very physical attitude to sex education although without anything explicit. Some self-sacrifice by friends and relatives for each others' good.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published in: 2009
Age Range: Mid Teens
Setting: Suburban America
- Nora Grey is a quiet, unassuming 16-year-old High School student. Waiting in principle for The Right Guy to come along, she's drawn to the dark and unpredictable Patch Cipriano.
- Sky Vee, Nora's best friend, is far more brash and outspoken. She's ready to stand up for herself, for her friend, or for rights in general in the face of an intimidating teacher or a pushy stranger.
- Patch Cipriano is a mysterious student in the same class as the girls. He's got no background to speak of and is generally seen in the more dingy and disreputable parts of town. He enjoys making Nora uncomfortable but appears protective towards her too.
Nora Grey finds herself partnered for the Sex Education course in Biology by the dark and unknown Patch who seems to be able to tell her a lot about herself, making her uncomfortable in the process. Repelled at first by his turning up wherever she goes, Nora finds herself unable to keep away from him, drawn by his personality and, later, his physique. Physical attacks on several people appear to be connected to a campaign against Nora. More disturbing for Nora herself is the fact that while she sees the clear evidence of damage to a car and to her house, when she brings someone else to see it, the damage has disappeared. Finally, a clean-looking All-American lad and his oddball companion who befriend the girls appear to be implicated in the suicide of a girl at the school they've just transferred from.
I'm clearly not in the target audience for this particular book, which appears to belong to a Twilight-meets-Angel supernatural romance sub-genre. If you take away the supernatural aspects of this story then really it's little more than a girl-meets-boy story with a dark past. Don't look for anything astonishing in the writing style either: it's mostly lightweight first-person introspection or straight dialogue. There is some competent descriptive stuff, but it's not a book about its setting; rather, about its people.
So what about the people? Sky and Nora have one of those brash-and-quiet friendships where Sky tries to persuade her friend into wearing racier underwear and putting on more makeup while Nora vaguely asserts herself without trying to influence Sky particularly. Sky has enough depth to her (in spite of a ditzy facade) that she's prepared to disguise herself as Nora as a subterfuge to protect her friend when she knows there's an attacker about. She's also aggressively confident about her body shape although other girls tease her for being oversized. Slightly surprisingly, she sometimes goes to church, but more for a sight of the good-looking pastor than out of any religious sentiment (although that's not ruled out).
There's an nice dynamic between Nora and her mother. Nora's father died in a shooting when he was out shopping (to buy a birthday present for his wife, for added poignancy). And her mother is away for days at a time and works long hours to bring enough money for them to keep the house where he lived. Nora knows that her mother trusts her stable daughter not to do anything rash. But in the course of the story, Nora gets drawn increasingly into the darker world which Patch inhabits and represents and starts to lie, implictly and later explicitly to her mother.
Before coming on to Patch and the world he represents, a word about the setting in which the two of them first meet. The story opens with a High School Biology class, focusing on Sex Education. This is taken by the school Coach and works on the basic assumption that animal attraction is what it's all about. There's some ribald commentary and so on, but nothing more explicit. I assume that this setting was chosen at it creates an automatic layer of discomfort for the class partners, on top of which the author will build the mysterious connection which Patch seems to have for Nora. You won't hear anything startling here, but nor will you be especially edified by the setting.
The front of the edition I read shows a winged figure, sillhouetted, with feathers falling around, and the tag line “A Fallen Angel... A Forbidden Love”. So I don't consider it too much of a spoiler to reveal that Patch is indeed a fallen angel. In fact, we learn from the prologue, a fallen angel who enjoys possessing humans. Or rather possessing the Nephilim, descendants of the union between an angel and a human and who may well be unaware of their ancestry. “Fallen” here doesn't seem to equate to belonging to the hordes of Satan; rather it's a got-a-bit-too-involved-with-humans fallen. The suggestion is that angels shouldn't get too close to humans and that if they do they are exiled to earth with their wings ripped off by Patrol Angels. (Or something).
I'll quickly skim over the essentials of the plot: Patch is an angel who was obsessed with being in a human body. He disobeyed an unspoken Authority and was stripped of his wings and of most of his powers. For two weeks in the month of Cheshvan (a Hebrew month significant for no very clear reason) he can possess a human's body. Meanwhile, a former (angelic) flame of his, still unfallen, comes along to persuade him to save a human's life so that he can regain the rank of a guardian angel. The alternative is that he destroy a human life and take on that body. At the same time, the Nephilim whose body Patch possesses is still alive centuries later and is trying to destroy Patch.
Now the idea of angels in this story resembles a Graphic Novel-style grab-bag of conveniently esoteric themes: guardian angels, fallen angels, Hebrew months, Nephilim, angels possessing humans, angels protecting humans, angels loving humans. At one level you could take away “angels” and substitute any other vaguely otherworldly being out the essence of the story would not change (bland, “good” girl falls for exciting “dark” stranger). But it wouldn't have the same edge of forbidden fruit about it. Whether you're religious or not, the concept of good — and bad angels — pervades our culture. The idea — the hope, even — that there are beings more powerful than us whose job is to watch over us is very appealing. You could argue that it manifests itself in the concept of the superhero, the mysteriously gifted human who must use his powers for good.
The Judeo-Christian angel is not a mortal superhero, strong but still able to suffer physical injury; rather he is a spirit — a being without matter — who can manifest himself in different ways but who cannot suffer physically. (NB I am using “he” here by convention and to avoid awkward alternatives but angels are sexless beings, unique species in themselves according to Christian Theology). He cannot have his “wings” cut off because he doesn't possess them. He can love human beings but not as humans love humans. Here as in so many other such stories, the “angel” is merely a darkly sexed-up superhuman. Now it's true that the author nowhere mentions God as such, nor that these are the angels of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But neither does she give any other reason for their existence, and I would protest that you can't piggyback people's expectations of angelic beings and then pretend that you can play by other rules.
And then you have the Nephilim, including the revengeful character who (understandably) dislikes being possessed one month a year, but whose longevity and apparent power is left unexplained. Of course all this is rather too much analysis of what amounts to just another teen romance dressed up in the currently fashionable garb of the fallen supernatural being. It will undoubtedly appeal to teenage girls who like their romance to have a faintly edgy feel but it doesn't really bring anything new.
- Angels: are they real? What do they do?
- Sex Education: should the school sports coach be teaching it?
Our car flew demonically fast, my hair flapping out behind me. I felt my organs float and fall in response to the ride. I looked down, trying to concentrate on something not moving.
It was then that I noticed my seat belt had come undone.
I tried to shout at Patch, but my voice was swallowed up in the rush of air. I felt my stomach go hollow, and I let go of the metal bar with one hand, trying to secure the seat belt around my waist with the other. The car lunged to the left. I slammed shoulders with Patch, pressing against him so hard it hurt. The car soared up, and I felt it lift from the tracks, not fully riveted to them.
We were plunging. The flashing lights along the tracks blinded me; I couldn't see which way the track turned at the end of the dive.
It was too late. The car swerved to the right. I felt a jolt of panic, and then it happened. My left shoulder slammed against the car door. It flung open and I was ripped out of the car while the roller coaster sped off without me. I rolled onto the tracks and grappled for something to anchor myself. My hands found nothing, and I tumbled over the edge, plunging straight down through the black air. The ground rushed up at me, and I opened my mouth to scream.
The next thing I knoew, the ride screeched to a stop at the unloading platform. My arms hurt form how tightly Patch held me. “Now that's what I call a scream,” he said, grinning at me.
Sunday 14th March 2010