This is the timeline in question: sometime around 5 p.m. I get the mail, and discover Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel waiting to be read. Some time around 5:30 I open the tidy, if worn, envelope it came in. I feel its weight in my hands, smoothe my fingers along its strange contours, drink in the lovely presentation with my eyes and wonder what it means for the book itself. I first heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” in a little children’s bookstore called Pages when I was about 7. Since then, I must have heard it 10 million times, used ironically or earnestly, and frankly I judge books by their covers.
Let me tell you a little about this cover, and what it hints at. The cover art is soft, moody, murky, surreal, and the scene it depicts looks like something coaxed out of a dream. A black-haired girl looks down at an open book in her hands while delicate rose-vines coil around her feet and up her thighs. Otherwise, the ground is barren. Seven ravens fly from the book’s pages. On the back cover, there’s another girl who you might think is the same girl before you even know the story. You don’t see this girl’s face. You see her back, her thorny black leather jacket, her spiky black boots, and her short, spiky black hair. There’s a bat tattooed on the nape of her neck and her feet are planted wide apart.
The presentation inside the book itself is also lovely. For instance, the page where you usually go (or don’t, let’s be honest) to look up publishing information has the usual words and warnings forming leaves and a vine that goes snaking across two pages. Each segment of the story is separated by a hauntingly vague green illustration, and given a different one-word name.
So it looks pretty, but is it any good?
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a lot of good.
Green Angel is a gorgeous, haunting post-apocalyptic fairytale. I could draw comparisons between the story and various myths, but it would be an exercise in futility. Green Angel is wholly its own story, with mythic bones, yes, but also with the author’s sure sense of poetry for blood. But if poetic prose is Green Angel‘s blood, its heart is the strange, sad story itself, or simply Green (the main character) herself. There was not a moment I didn’t like her or didn’t feel like I was rooting for her. It’s a story that speaks loss, heartbreak, strength and, finally, girls; I know, I am one. Although there were no graphic scenes of gore and violence, there were scenes of personal violence, and they made me cringe. I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing, either. They were simply gut-wrenching.
The brief summary of Green Angel: Green is the shy, lonely daughter who loves her family, waiting to turn 16, when of course the magical world will blossom for her. Her family is great, but it’s not quite perfect (although it seems to come close). Then one day they go off to the city to sell their harvest from the garden and they never come back. The sky burns, the city is destroyed, and the sun looks like the moon because of all the ash hanging in the sky. We never find out exactly what happened, but some kind of bomb seems implied. The very land is scorched. Green, who was outside sulking about being left behind when the bomb hit, is half blinded. The world is irrevocably changed, and so is Green’s life. She waits for her family to return, and they don’t. Take the story from there.
It was such a sad book, and the sadness was real. Hints of magic were woven so deftly into the world — which, as in fairytales, had places named what they were, like “the city” or “the village”— that they were real too. While it was a book about sad things, it’s important to note that it was not depressing. The conclusion was so natural (and yet, I didn’t really see it coming; not the way it did, anyway) that I closed the book immensely satisfied and wishing that I’d paused at each chapter, for air, instead of hurtling through the whole story like a bookworm on fifty pounds of coffee. The only fly in the ointment was a tendency towards redundancy, description-wise, in the very beginning. This mostly cropped up in descriptions of Green’s sister and the likening of her to moonlight. Yes, I thought, I get it, now go on! But even when I thought it, the thought seemed uncharitable, since the metaphors were so lovely, and worked so well in a read aloud rhythm. Thankfully, this snag went away the further I read.
I recommend Green Angel wholeheartedly to anyone who’s a fan of Francesca Lia Block’s writing. Will fans of Alice Hoffman enjoy it? I’ve read four (if we count Aquamarine and Indigo separately) of her books and my best friend is a devotee who has tried to convert me many times to the “light side.” But the first book I read didn’t impress me. It was nice, but it wasn’t anything special, and I don’t even remember the title. The main character’s name was Teresa and her brother’s name was Silver. The second book I read (The River King) was haunting and very, very good. My reaction to Water Tales pretty much matches that of this review by another reviewer at Green Man.
It’s a short book, only 116 pages. But as I said earlier, I had the urge to stop after every chapter and just breathe the clean air while I soaked up what had just happened, so it should last more then a night. The very last criticism I have for Green Angel is this: it’s ruined me for other books tonight. I want to read, but I don’t really want to read anything else. Neither am I ready to reread Green Angel so soon after having read it.
But I am glad I read it.
(Scholastic Press, 2003)