Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Angel in my pocket by Ilene Cooper

    Bette's sister Barbra has been there for her ever since their mother died. Bette loves and resents her constant presence and when Barbra goes to college and starts building a new life for herself, Bette isn't sure what she feels. Bette stopped singing when her mother died and she's worried that her special performing arts school won't let her stay much longer. Then Bette's father rents out one of their apartments to a strange woman named Gabi. She beautiful and friendly and Bette hates her, but Gabi's warmth can't be denied for long. With Gabi's help and a somewhat combative friendship with Joe, an odd boy at school, she finds herself singing and happy again.
     Joe knows he doesn't belong at the stupid performing arts school like Bette. Joe releases his anger at himself, his father who abandoned them, and the world by bullying and stealing from Andy Minkus, a helpless kid at school. When he sees Bette's growing happiness, and the odd little coin she carries, he steals it. The coin doesn't magically fix his life, but the kindness of the stage manager, Michael, his own talents of carpentry, and Andy Minkus' decision to do good deeds for him change his life.

   Andy is surprised when Joe gives him an odd little coin, but he doesn't think he really needs a good luck piece, so he gives it to his twin sister, Vivi. Vivi used to be happy, best friends with Bette, and a star piano player at their school. She fought back against the asthma and enjoyed life. But when her asthma got worse and the medicine she had to take made her gain weight, she gave up. Appearances are important to Vivi and she can't stand the look of the person she's become. It takes a lot of patience and some honesty from Andy, Bette, and their new friend Joe before Vivi starts to have a balanced perspective on the world again. With the help of her new doctor, Dr. Raphael, and a handsome and romantic boy named Uri that she meets at her 13th birthday celebration, Vivi embraces life again and starts to feel beautiful once more.

The characters in this book were vividly portrayed and extremely interesting; which made the structure of the book problematic for me. Every time I started to feel invested in a character, the story wrenched on to the next section of plot. I don't know if this would bother kids, but having basically three completely separate stories in the book bugged me. The second thing that bugged me was Vivi's story. She's starting to feel better about herself, Dr. Raphael has some new ideas and medicines that are helping with her asthma, she's playing the piano again (although she doesn't miraculously get the accompaniment part she wants) and she's repairing her friendships. But that's not enough to completely "cure" her. Oh, no. She has to be validated by a stunningly handsome boy (with a scar of course, so he can sympathize with her) and get her first kiss. That was so....unnecessary and it really jarred on me. Andy's crush on Bette felt more natural and realistic, although he comes off as waaaay more mature than any other 13 year old boy I've ever met. But...seriously, Vivi basically needs a summer romance (yes, yes, he's an angel, I GET it) to feel good about herself. How long will that last? What if she doesn't find another boy who thinks she's beautiful? It's clear to me that Vivi is still very focused on appearances by the end of the story and if the miracle cure Dr. Raphael so handily produces doesn't slim her down, she's probably going to sink back into depression.

Of course, these are just the things that bugged me. It was interesting to see a middle grade book that deals, even lightly, with religion. The characters are nuanced and the stories have just enough drama to be fascinating and not enough to push it over the top. I don't think most kids will really care about the odd structure of the book or Vivi's shallowness. Despite the flaws, it's a good story and definitely worth handing to kids who like realistic fiction or want something with a little bit of mysticism about it.

Verdict: An additional purchase, but worth adding if you have fans of realistic contemporary fiction looking for something in the 9-13 age range that's not too mature but still deals with real issues.

ISBN: 9780312370145; Published March 2011 by Macmillan (Feiwel and Friends) March 2011; ARC provided by publisher


Ms. Yingling said...

Just didn't do it for me, either.

Jennifer said...

I think we agree on everything except graphic novels (-:)