Review for Angelhood by A. J. Cattapan by Teresa Frailey


For young adults, I highly recommend the book Angelhood. It was a powerful story. It can also be credited with good writing, beautiful imagery and a compelling tale that’s difficult to put down. Very few books can approach the subject of suicide and death without becoming totally dark and depressing. Angelhood was one of those. It opened up a perspective of life that is worth looking through. It demonstrated that life, despite the dark nights of the soul, is worth living. The reader finds, along with the main character, life is about living.

Angelhood begins with seventeen-year-old Nanette, who, believing her life not worth living, decides to take it. For supposedly unselfish reasons, she shoots herself, and immediately panics at what she realizes she’s done. There is, however, no going back.

Peace is not the afterlife she gets. She finds herself stranded in a world neither heaven nor hell, a soul without a body. She soon begins to see scattered fragments of someone else’s life and her own life. In time she realizes she has a mission as a Guardian, to help a girl contemplating Nanette’s own choice—to take her life.

Nanette finds that Vera (the girl she’s guarding) is in circumstances far more depressing that Nanette’s own were. Vera’s mother is dead, her father barely notices her and she is friendless. She does, however, possess a gift for writing poetry.

At first Nanette is incapable of doing anything to help Vera. She learns from another Guardian that she must first grow in grace to do certain things. To help Vera see that life is worth living, to save her from the fate Nanette herself choose, she must first see the good in her own life. By struggling with sheer determination to help Vera, Nanette ends up helping herself. Nanette’s soul changes over the course of the story. She sees what a mistake she made in choosing to destroy the greatest gift God gave her. She thought she was committing suicide for unselfish reasons; without her there would be more money for her family; her younger sister could attend a dancing school and have a great life. She believed her family would be better off without her. However, Vera’s life is not the only life Nanette receives glimpses of. She sees her sister who attends the same school as Vera.  She learns to her horror that is was not her mother who came and found her, after she shot herself, but her little sister. Because of that experience, her sister never danced again. Nanette learns her mother is diagnosed with stage four cancer.  Because she’s not with her little sister as support, she finds that the sibling she “unselfishly died for” is considering Nanette’s same sin.

Nanette realizes she must somehow save both Vera and her sister from choosing suicide. As Nanette grows in grace, she finds her capabilities increasing. At first she can merely blow papers to the floor, do small things to help in small ways. Later she can accomplish greater things and help protect Vera and her sister from the darkness that is comes for them when they turn to thoughts of suicide.

Nanette, through new-found virtues of determination and persistence born of love for the two she is protecting, succeeds in saving both Vera and her little sister. She helps to improve Vera’s life by giving her friends. She helps the father notice her and encourages her see that life does have beauty. She also has a hand in helping her little sister finally dance again.

After a Guardian succeeds in a mission, they can move on to sainthood. But through the course of the story Nanette has realized all she gave up with that one press of the trigger. She sees, while guarding her sister, her family as it has become, what she has done to them by her decision, the terrible grief she has caused.

Longing for what she gave up, Nanette is given her life. Instead of entering sainthood after completing her task, she wakes up from a coma. She finds she did shoot herself, but the shot was not fatal. Her mother and sister are there. Finally Nanette can be there to support her sister; she can change the future as she saw it as a guardian for her family. Nanette experiences the great joy of being given back the gift she was once willing to take.

Angelhood reminded me of A Wonderful Life and Charles Dickon’s A Christmas Carol. It was a story, like those two, that changes the way you look at life. There are certainly dark nights of the soul. They come and go threaded in amongst the joys of living. But life, as Nanette found, is worth living, no matter what.

Angelhood is likely to stay in my mind, clinging to some part throughout my life. It won’t go in one ear and out the other like some books have wont to do. I think reading it changes one’s perspective  in such a way that  will probably stay with other readers as well. Most people know suicide is wrong, or sense the darkness of it. Angelhood clarifies and reaffirms that inner knowledge in a strong way. The thought Angelhood left with me: Dark nights exist, but life is still beautiful and still a gift.

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One Response to Review for Angelhood by A. J. Cattapan by Teresa Frailey

  1. Elaine Lyons Bach says:

    Thank you, Teresa, for this review. I can see this story being made into a movie. It sounds memorable.