November 20, 2012

My Book of Life by Angel

by Martine Leavitt
Groundwood Books
246 pp.
Ages 14+

A great fan of novels in verse  (see my post on Exceptional Novels in Verse for Young Readers), I was astounded to realize that Martine Leavitt's newest book, My Book of Life by Angel, could be added to this book list.  And while the protagonist is a sixteen-year-old girl and the context is definitely young adult, I would recommend this book to adult readers as well.  The context of the missing women of Vancouver's downtown eastside and the plight of sex trade workers trapped in unspeakable circumstances brings My Book of Life by Angel from YA fiction to social commentary, all in flowing, powerful, Milton-esque verse.

Angel knows how she got on the streets of Vancouver: her mother's death and Angel's predilection for shoplifting shoes (sadly, only one of a pair).  She thinks about her dad and little brother Jeremy, even sending a letter home, hoping for a response.  But as long as her pimp, Call, threatens to hurt Jeremy if she ever leaves, Angel just keeps her head off what she's doing and does it.  Almost like an automaton, she lists her johns:  little old Fred who can't really afford her, John the university professor who talks of Milton, the Preacher, and an endless track of pathetic, nasty, oblivious, arrogant men. And now everyone is wondering if there is a Mr. P who is taking the missing girls.

Her friend Serena had always told Angel about angels being around and, after Serena goes missing, Angel begins to wonder about the possibility of angels watching over them. Angel vows to clean up her act, starting a new story for herself in her journal My Book of Life by Angel, ever hopeful that there really is an angel to help her.
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.
But when Call brings home an eleven-year-old girl, Melli, Angel is determined to work double just to keep Melli from the life of a sex trade worker.  It's her devotion to Melli and Angel's repulsion of the manner in which another sex worker's assault is handled that ultimately mobilize Angel to make things right, at least as right as she can.

Martine Leavitt's My Book of Life by Angel is a hard story.  It has coarse edges that scrape at your heart and at your sense of decency.  But Martine Leavitt never allows the reader to judge Angel or the other sex trade workers, only those who deem to manipulate their victims.  Sadly, there are always those that seek to force their will on others, through power, abuse, drugs and fear, even through academic knowledge. The fact that Call and his cohorts are attempting to legalize the trade, perceiving themselves to be entrepreneurs rather than abusers, speaks to their arrogance.

Regardless of the hard edges of her story, Angel is an ethereal creature whose fluidity of thought and feeling and grace, courtesy of Martine Leavitt's lyrical and just as ethereal verse, transports the reader from the gritty sex trade of Vancouver's downtown eastside and into the hopeful realm where there is mercy, and goodness prevails over evil.


  1. I have a tonne of Groundwood Books on my reading stacks these days, indulging in a new reading project, but your thoughts on this one have made me want to vault it straight to the top.

  2. Hi there

    As someone who has reviewed verse novels in the past, I'd love you to participate in VerseDay 2013 - celebrating verse novels, poetry etc. Please take a look at the details here: