Nora Grey, sixteen, finds herself partnered for the Sex Education course in Biology with the dark and unknown Patch. He seems to be able to tell her a lot about herself, making her uncomfortable in the process. Repelled at first by his turning up wherever she goes, Nora finds herself unable to keep away from him, drawn by his personality and, later, his physique. Physical attacks on several people appear to be connected to a campaign against Nora. More disturbing for Nora herself is the fact that while she sees the clear evidence of damage to a car and to her house, when she brings someone else to see it, the damage has disappeared. Finally, a clean-looking all-American lad and his oddball companion who befriend Nora and her best friend Sky appear to be implicated in the suicide of a girl at the school from which they have just transferred.
This book appears to belong to a Twilight-meets-angel supernatural romance sub-genre. Without the supernatural aspects of this story, it is little more than a girl-meets-boy story with a dark past. The writing style is mostly lightweight first-person introspection or straight dialogue. There is some competent descriptive stuff, but it is not a book about its setting; rather, about its people.
So what about the people? Sky and Nora have one of those brash-and-quiet friendships where Sky tries to persuade her friend into wearing racier underwear and putting on more makeup while Nora vaguely asserts herself without trying to influence Sky. Sky has enough depth to her (in spite of a ditzy facade) that she is prepared to disguise herself as Nora to protect her friend when she knows there is an attacker about. She is also aggressively confident about her body shape although other girls tease her for being oversized. Slightly surprisingly, she sometimes goes to church, but more for a sight of the good-looking pastor than out of any religious sentiment.
There is an nice dynamic between Nora and her mother. Nora's father died in a shooting when he was out shopping (to buy a birthday present for his wife, for added poignancy). Her mother is away for days at a time and works long hours to bring enough money for them to keep the house where he lived. Nora knows that her mother trusts her stable daughter not to do anything rash. But in the course of the story, Nora gets drawn increasingly into the darker world which Patch inhabits and starts to lie to her mother. The story opens with a high school Biology class, focusing on Sex Education. This is given by the school Coach and works on the basic assumption that animal attraction is what it is all about. There is some ribald commentary and so on, but nothing more explicit.
Patch is an fallen angel obsessed with being in a human body. "Fallen" here does not seem to equate to belonging to the hordes of Satan; rather it's a got-a-bit-too-involved-with-humans fallen. The suggestion is that angels should not get too close to humans and that if they do they are exiled to earth stripped of their wings and most of their powers. For two weeks in the month of Cheshvan (a Hebrew month significant for no very clear reason) Patch can possess a Nephilim, a descendant of the union between an angel and a human. Meanwhile, a former (angelic) flame of his, still unfallen, comes along to persuade him to save a human's life so that he can regain the rank of a guardian angel. The alternative is that he destroy a human life and take on that body. The Nephilim whose body Patch possesses is still alive centuries later and is trying to destroy Patch.
Now the idea of angels in this story resembles a Graphic Novel-style grab-bag of conveniently esoteric themes: guardian angels, fallen angels, Hebrew months, Nephilim, angels possessing humans, angels protecting humans, angels loving humans. One could take away "angels" and substitute any other vaguely otherworldly being out the essence of the story would not change (bland, "good" girl falls for exciting "dark" stranger). But it would not have the same edge of forbidden fruit. The concept of good and bad angels pervades our culture. The idea that there are beings more powerful than us whose job is to watch over us is very appealing. It could be argued that it manifests itself in the concept of the superhero, the mysteriously gifted human who must use his powers for good. Then there is the Nephilim, including the revengeful character who (understandably) dislikes being possessed, but whose longevity and apparent power is left unexplained. Of course all this is rather too much analysis of what amounts to just another teen romance dressed up in the currently fashionable garb of the fallen supernatural being. It will undoubtedly appeal to teenage girls who like their romance to have a faintly edgy feel but it is not really anything new.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.
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