Friday, February 22, 2008

Green Angel So Lyrical It's Practically Poetry

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Some stories are so lyrical they're practically poetry; Green Angel by Alice Hoffman is one of these. In fact, the book is more allegory than story, but it is so suffused with symbolism and fine, sensuous detail that it reads almost like a poem.
The book follows Green, a shy 15-year-old who lives in the country with her parents and her sister Aurora who is so luminous that "white moths hovered above her, more drawn to her than they were to the moon or to the lantern my father kept on the porch" (7). Her parents each have their own talents, and Green is content to be "the least among them, nothing special, just a girl" (6). Despite her self-effacing nature, she actually has uncanny, almost magic, talents in the garden, which is how she earned her name.

One fateful day, Green's family travels to the city to sell their vegetables, leaving her home to tend the gardens. She is wandering in the hills when she feels the air change. Something terrible is happening in the city. Even from a distance, Green "could feel the whoosh of the fire all these miles away, across the river, past the woods. I could hear it as if it were happening inside my own head" (15). When her parents and sister don't return from the city, Green's grief mounts. Alone, she turns her pain inward, trying desperately to forget the great fire that destroyed her family, her home and all her hopes for the future. She "wanted to be as hard and brittle as the stones I carted into the woods, stones that could not feel or cry or see" (28), so she chops off her hair, tattooes her skin with black roses and ravens, sews thorns into her clothes and shrouds herself in her father's heavy coat and boots until she is "protected from feeling anything at all" (30). She renames herself "Ash" and lets her former identity burn away, like everything else in her world.

Her tough exterior works until Green realizes she's defaced herself beyond recognition - even her sister, who visits her nightly in her dreams, no longer recognizes her. It is only when Green cleans a neighbor's home, shares her bread with other orphans and spreads salve on scorched wings and beaks that she finally begins coming back to herself. The despair that gave birth to Ash threatens to melt her soul, but tiny buds of hope are springing up in her ruined life. Can she shake off the ashes of her grief and find rebirth in the sunshine where she is, as always, Green?

I know the story sounds a little odd, and it is, but it's also a beautiful little tale about loss, despair and ultimately, hope. It's a YA novel, so it's a quick read. Don't let its brevity fool you; Green Angel has so many delicate layers that you'll be carefully peeling them apart long after you've closed the book.

Grade: A

2 comments:

  1. What a striking cover...that alone would get me to pick this one up in a bookstore to see what it's all about. Thanks for the review.

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  2. This sounds like a wonderful story. The quotes that you put in your review sound so poetic and beautiful. I may have to check this one out! Great review!
    Also, I love your site!!

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