On the Side of the Angels
Linda Paulson Adams
Bookcraft , 1989.
I enjoyed Kristen Randle's On the Side of the Angels very much. It is young adult fiction, and I felt that for this genre, it succeeds quite well. It may have more appeal to young girls than boys, even though the main character is male. It is about the story of Cody McClellan, a teen boy from New York who leaves his abusive and neglectful mother to find his uncle, in hopes of making a better life for himself there.
I found her characterizations to be compelling and realistic, the people and situations believable enough for YA fiction. The uncle's family lives in Utah and is an LDS family, but the references she uses are oblique enough that the book reads as mainstream fiction. Only an LDS member would be able to pinpoint the location and religion, and she does not make religion a large issue in the book, which I enjoyed.
Much of LDS fiction -- especially that aimed towards youth -- dwells too much on doctrine or church, or becomes a conversion story, and for me those techniques are not always highly realistic. Cody's new family does not actively try to convert him to the gospel. I think the book would have lost something if this had happened. There is a scene where they take him to church and Cody tries to puzzle out the need for a Savior, and why Jesus would want to die for us. The scene is nicely done, and thoughtful, but not overly doctrinal or preachy. (The only part of this scene that stretches my belief a little is that I haven't heard a sacrament meeting talk as moving and powerful as she describes, on the nature and meaning of the Atonement in some time. ;~) IOW, the family got very lucky to bring him on this particular week, and not a week where food storage or odd personal doctrines were preached. <grin> You know how sacrament meetings go sometimes! -- Still, she does a nice job with it.)
Kristen builds a nice, straightforward plot which increases in intensity straight through to the end. I had to keep turning the pages as the tension built up to the final conflict -- I didn't want to put it down. And I'm an adult! It has all the elements which make it interesting to teenagers, including a love interest for Cody, a new hobby, problems building relationships, making friends, and moving to a new school, all while trying to avoid his shadowy past catching up to him, which eventually it does. Her language and style are engaging throughout, and I got the sense from the narrative that I was listening to a master storyteller at work. With very few actual words spent on description of objects, landscape, and people, I was able to get a clear picture in my mind of the scenery and places she wrote about, and what the characters might look like. That's not always easy to accomplish, and she does it well.
The theme of this book is about overcoming adversity, and making something better out of the situations a person has been dealt in life. It is about choosing to improve, sometimes the hard way, rather than going with the most convenient choice. The title comes from a quote by Benjamin Disraeli, which is printed in the opening pages: "Is man an ape or an angel?... I am on the side of the angels." I feel she explores this idea very well with Cody. It could be argued that Cody makes too many correct decisions or that his integration into a more "normal" life (considering the severity of abuse he has suffered) comes too easily, or that he is too lucky; but I don't think so. He does make some wrong choices, but at crucial points chooses the better way. Although his mother wronged him severely, he had other adults and mentors throughout his childhood that helped to teach him and guide him, all of which prepare him to accept and be accepted into his new life. This is what makes his story believable to me. Without these key people influencing him early on, I'm not sure if he could have risen above his situation in a realistic or believable manner. I liked the theme and the message, both of which come through clearly without being "pushed" on the reader or over-stated in any way.
I think as young adult fiction, she succeeds very well in her goals to reach teens with a positive message without preaching it, showing it to us plainly yet avoiding any moralizing about it at the end. This I found refreshing. It is a good, action-filled story. I would highly recommend this as a good book for youth, both in and out of the church, that will be a fun and enjoyable read.
-- Linda Adams firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/8776
© 1997 Linda Adams