There are so few books that have touched me deeply enough that I couldn't imagine my life without having read them: The Alchemist, The Little Prince,...moreThere are so few books that have touched me deeply enough that I couldn't imagine my life without having read them: The Alchemist, The Little Prince, The Graveyard Book. And now, I add to that list The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech.
The story is simple. It goes like this: an angel lives in a tower in a small village in the Swiss Alps. This angel, he isn't sure what his purpose is. "Me, I am an angel. I am supposed to be having all the words in all the languages, but I am not. Many are missing. I am also not having a special assignment. I think I did not get all the training. . . . Do the other angels know what they are doing? Am I the only confused one? Maybe I am unfinished, an unfinished angel."
This angel watches over the people of this little village, and then one day, an American family comes to live in the house attached to his tower. Zola, a young girl vibrant with life and colors—she wears three different colored skirts and numerous bright ribbons at the same time—meets angel and actually sees him. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between a vivacious girl and a grumpy angel.
Though the events of the story are ordinary, there is an uncommon grace and elegance to the prose, even with an angel narrator that cannot speak English properly and often fuses words. ("Zola smills, smuggles, what is the word? What is it, that word for happy teeth??") But more than that, the beauty of the story outshines any I have read in a long while.
Through often misguided efforts, angel watches over his town and his "peoples." By the end of the book, angel realizes he has a purpose, and we recognize the goodness that there is in the world and the hearts of the people who populate it.
"I am feeling most hopeful watching these peoples. I don't know what to say about this feeling. I don't eat food, but if I did, maybe it is as if I were hungry, so hungry, and I didn't even know it, and then I found a mountain of food and I ate and ate, and then I sat back contentful and there was still more mountain for the next day and the next day. Maybe it is like that. I don't know. Since I don't eat food, it is hard to say."
After reading this striking story, I am feeling contentful as well.
In conclusion, this mesmerizing story is one that will become a classic, and I would not be too far off in saying I see this as a strong contender for the Newberry. Every child, every adult should become friends with this unfinished angel and let him help you become more of a finished person.
P.S. I have serious issues with the book's cover design. Had I not read a review of the book previous to buying it, I would most likely have passed it over.(less)
I loved that the author chose a Spanish-influenced culture for the story's backdrop. In most of the fantasy I've read, the cultures tend toward mo...more★★★½
I loved that the author chose a Spanish-influenced culture for the story's backdrop. In most of the fantasy I've read, the cultures tend toward more English and French roots, with plenty of Norwegian and Viking-ish clones. I've also seen quite a few with Arabic and Egyptian accents, but Spain? I don't think I've read any like that before. That I find very exciting.
So it's refreshing to see that influence in the book, in the character's names, place settings, and even the flow of the language. The fact that I'd recently returned from a trip to Spain before reading likely influenced my notice of the language. As I read, the text flowed with a Spanish cadence through my head, the lull and rise of rolling syllables and the passion behind the words.
That said, I struggled with one element of the story, and it colored my overall impression of the book. The main character, Princess Elisa, isn't skinny, not in the least. That's great; books need more characters who represent teens of all colors, shapes, and sizes. The problem I has was with the way Carson handled (treated? I can't think of the right word) Elisa's obesity. Yes, overweight women and teens eat a lot, or at least more than they're burning off through activity, but I don't know of a single woman dealing with weight issues who thinks of food all the time. Sure, Elisa's a stress-eater (I am too, though I've learned to temper it to a good extent), but focusing so much of the character's thoughts on food and eating—always hungry, need food—overstates it to the point of caricature.
I'm guessing Carson didn't intend for it to come across that way, but with so much emphasis placed on the princess' eating habits (even once she begins to lose weight), it threw the story out of balance for me. It became the story of a fat princess who loses weight, and not the story of an awkward girl who does her best to save a kingdom despite some rather difficult physical and emotional limitations.
All that said, it's an enjoyable read, and I can see why it has so many devoted fans. The book was reminiscent of—and perhaps a tribute to—Tamora Pierce's Alanna series. So I'm giving this book 3 1/2 stars with the hope that the sequel will improve upon the first and make this a 5 star series.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy!(less)
Overall ★★★★★ Story ★★★★★ Characters ★★★★★ Writing ★★★★★ Ending ★★★★★
It’s incredibly rare that a book manages to vault itself onto my “favorite books ever...moreOverall ★★★★★ Story ★★★★★ Characters ★★★★★ Writing ★★★★★ Ending ★★★★★
It’s incredibly rare that a book manages to vault itself onto my “favorite books ever” list within the first two paragraphs. Only one book comes to mind, at least within recent memory: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman captivated me by the first line. Now I’ve found a second: Cliff McNish’s Savannah Grey, and it did so with incredible force.
What did it? Paragraph number 2: “Reaching number thirty-three, Savannah Grey’s house, the Horror dropped its star-shaped head on one side, knotted its murderous claws behind its back, and tried to work out the most entertaining way to reach Savannah’s bedroom. There were many ways available, but the Horror was young and like all young things, it liked to use its teeth.”
How, I ask, can a book be dull with an opening like that? I was immediately captivated. Not even the change in narrative styles to first person once Savannah awoke diminished the storytelling. I was delighted when I saw that the original voice returned every few chapters to detail more of the Horror and the ancient Ocrassa that controlled it. Neither voice suffered, instead offering a depth to the already compelling story.
While the human characters were well crafted, the monsters came to life with a vibrancy that made me want to see the child-like Horror prance about in a stolen leotard and chasse and leap about while terrorizing humans. The way McNish tells of the Ocrassa’s history is as though he is telling of the Earth itself, incredibly powerful and moving. While explicitly evil, the Ocrassa is rendered in such a way that its actions seemed logical given what it was. I’ve never seen a writer make monsters feel so natural in our world. It’s incredible and not something I can accurately express in a brief review.
In addition to all this, the book ends exactly where and as it should. While there are some flaws (which I’d daresay are minor in comparison to its incredible strengths), I’ve read so few books that seemed nearly perfect in so many ways. This is one you have to read for yourself. Although many of you may disagree with my thoughts, you can’t read this and not wonder at the incredibly rich and original universe McNish created here. It’s astounding. (less)