Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review - "Angel in My Pocket"

What do you do with a book that wears its heart proudly on its sleeve? Cynic that I am, I tend to judge a bit harshly I'm sure. Even when I am taken in by an emotional plot, I'm conscious of my taken in, and part of me is suspicious of that. So what do I do with a book like Ilene Cooper's Angel in My Pocket? It's heartfelt and tries to pack much meaning into its nearly 300 pages. Did I feel myself being manipulated? A little bit. Did I mind? Surprisingly, not that much.
Seventh grader Bette finds an angel coin amongst donations for a local charity and immediately takes a shine to it, though she wouldn't really be able to tell you why. Suddenly her life begins to change, in little ways. A new neighbor moves in downstairs. An opportunity to sing again (which she hasn't felt like doing since her mother's death) presents itself in the form of a big musical production at her school. Bette begins to feel like her coin might be bringing her luck after all, but just as soon as she begins to rely on it, it disappears. And so begins the travels of this little angel coin, which visits three more students (really two, as one is more of a delivery person than a carrier) and is present during difficult and transformative times in their lives.
Does the coin really affect these children directly, or is it a result of a higher confidence and conscience that they are reminded of because of the coin? Cooper is careful not to say directly, though personally I think it is the latter. There's a light dusting of religion here (very light, given that only one main character, Andy Minkus, is particularly observant), though it is of a very non-denominational sort. Twins Andy and Vivi are Jewish, troubled Joe is Catholic, but the book is very non-specific.
What Cooper really has with Angel in My Pocket is a string of really good characters and good situations awkwardly placed together on line where they don't really scan. The transition from Bette's story to Joe's is especially disjointed, and it was several chapters before I felt on solid ground with the book again. But the characters, Bette, Joe, Andy and Vivi, are beautiful creations, fully fleshed out and believable, each with their own drama, their own quirks and their own minds which make their little spheres of the story unique. I particularly enjoyed Vivi's story, which I felt was handled with the right amount of delicacy and determination.
Was Angel in My Pocket a little cheesy? I won't lie; yes it was. But I enjoyed the time I spent with Cooper's characters and the world they inhabited. And I know just the type of child to hand this book to, as well: the one's with that little gleam of a lucky charm in their eye, or perhaps those that could use a helping of luck for themselves. Angel in My Pocket would work as a charm against the big bad world when all you want is something warm to eat, a blanket, and a good book.

Angel in My Pocket by Ilene Cooper
2011, Feiwel and Friends
Library copy

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