Yesterday I blogged about controversial themes in verse novels. A recent release verse novel goes further into controversial themes than almost any I’ve ever read. MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL by Martine Leavitt combines a universally relatable tale about a girl who has fallen as far out of respectability as is possible (she’s become an addicted prostitute) with a very specific rather pointed indictment of the city of Vancouver’s lukewarm investigation of the serial killings of prostitutes by Robert Pickton.
Politics aside this is a deeply involving story driven by a heartbreakingly sympathetic character and several nasty but three dimensional villains. The titular narrator, Angel finds herself on the street as many young women do, by feeling rejected by her family and trusting the wrong man. After the disappearance of a sympathetic colleague, she begins writing her experiences in a journal, her “book of life”. Her verse is harsh, vivid and graphic, though somehow still discrete enough for this to work as a YA text, even perhaps in some more liberal classrooms.
Though poetic and expressionistic, MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL is nevertheless strongly plot driven with a tense narrative and a nail biting climax.
As a Vancouver resident, I was a little disappointed that the issue of race was explored further. A disproportionate number of Vancouver prostitutes are Indigenous (First Nations) women (and men) and many of Pickton’s victims were First Nations. One source estimates that over 600 First Nations women have been murdered in the sex workers’ trade in Canada. So that this issue was not prominent felt a bit jarring.
Apart from that MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL is a superb addition to the verse novel genre. Given its subject matter and political overtones it will find readership both within and beyond the YA age group.
MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL was released on September 4th, 2012. I received a review eARC from the publisher via Netgalley.