Easter Monday seems an appropriate day to review a YA novel about angels. In ANGEL, 14-year old Freya has spent years in treatment for mental illness stemming from a "visitation" when she was a young child in which an angel appeared in her bedroom and told her that she was special and foretold an important role for her in the future when she was older. After the visit, Freya spends years in and out of mental institutions struggling to cope with her belief in angels.
Just when she gets her life back on track and is navigating the social morass of high school popularity, a peculiar girl named Stephanie begins school and does everything she can to convince her classmates that angels are real. With Stephanie's appearance, Freya finds her carefully constructed world starting to crumble as she longs to believe but is held back both by her hard-fought struggles to be "normal" and by her desire to fit in.
With the exception of the angel theme, the plot of the book is a fairly conventional tale of a teen girl coming of age and dealing with the social and family changes that come with the territory. There are two sub-plots involving her brother and father that also feature in the culminating drama of the story.
What is so interesting about this book and is certainly a credit to the author, Cliff McNish, is that by the end of the book, the reader is left quesitoning whether angels are indeed real. The plot drives the book so it is a fast read. But there is enough character development that the reader cares about Freya and Stephanie and what happens to them and cheers for the predictable comeuppance of the snotty, manipulative and cruel "popular" girl.
Perhaps the greatest success of this story, however, is that for all it deals with the realm of fanstasy, it posits some important questions about how we treat each other here on earth. It's not a religious book, but it is a spiritual book -and one that makes some terrific suggestions about actions and consequences.