Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: HALO by Alexandra Adornetto

halo cover

Bethany is an angel sent to battle the forces of darkness in a quaint seaside town, along with her brother and sister (I'm assuming those titles are honorific), Gabriel and Ivy. Unfortunately, unlike the other two angels, Bethany enjoys her experiences as a human way too much--especially when the cute captain of the high school, Xavier, starts paying attention to her. Alas, humans and angels cannot fall in love! What will these two crazy kids do?!?

The first half of this book was actually pretty good. I was impressed by the amount of research Adornetto put into angelology and how she made the inhuman angels seem completely believable as characters but most definitely otherworldly. The chemistry between Beth and Xavier wasn't exactly burning the pages up, but it was there. Plus it was fun seeing a complete innocent like Beth face the mysteries of hurdles like drinking and boys being attracted to her. I was engaged, I wanted to know what would happen, I was caught in the midst of teen angst. That's just about everything I ask from a YA novel!

Then came the second half of the book, and everything went downhill. Since the angels are on an "urgent mission" to battle the forces of darkness, I kept expecting, you know, something bad to happen. But the only sign of the devil in the little town Bethany and Xavier inhabit is a super-obvious sneering demon from England (where else?) who shows up in the second half, so that story line was really boring. Even more troublesome, the characters remained very shallowly sketched throughout the entire book, especially Xavier, whom I really wanted to understand better. Why is he so attracted to Bethany? Why is she attracted to him? I still don't know. And in the second half, Xavier becomes so "protective" (feel free to read that as "controlling") he makes Edward Cullen look like a neglectful baby sitter.

Then again, Bethany does magically lose the sentient part of her brain in the second half, so perhaps Xavier's justified in treating her like a 3-year-old.

Plus there are alllll these inconsistencies of logic to deal with. Beth had to step out of class during slide presentations because her skin sparkles in the dark, yet she goes to beach parties at night where people are sure to notice--one would think--her sparkly skin. The angels have all human knowledge at their fingertips, yet Beth still has to learn things for class and they can't figure out how to pay an electric bill. They're supposed to be humble messengers of God, but they live in a posh mansion and don't have to work. And so on.

There is a strong religious thread in this book. Religion in books doesn't necessarily bother me--in fact, in books about angels, I get annoyed if the concept of God isn't at least brought up--but here I became a little concerned because the religion espoused seemed very fundamentalist. Bethany says her "family" supports family values (which I've always taken as code for "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen"), and there's a strong message that sex before marriage is BAD. Nearly all the girls who have sex in this book are killed. I am NOT even joking. The threat the "forces of darkness"--i.e., the one kid who cartoonishly embodies Bad News--present is ridiculous and difficult to take seriously. There are no crises of faith and no deeper layers of what's right and wrong. What you see is what you get.

Yet at the same time the innocence and simplicity of this novel is refreshing, especially in the beginning. It has a 1950s retro vibe to it, like Pleasantville before everyone got color. Xavier even drives a classic car, and I have zero trouble picturing Bethany in a poodle skirt and cardigan.

Considering that Adornetto is 18 (or was when this book was published), I'm impressed with her ability to write appealing characters and a good story, and I definitely wouldn't be adverse to reading more of her work. Unfortunately, though, this book is too long, and everything in it is treated very shallowly. I don't think there was much depth to the characters, even major characters like Xavier. There are also a lot of convenient plot devices roiling around in here. So this book was okay... ish, but I was really really glad when it was over.

Musical Notes: "Crazy In Love" by Beyoncé


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