Some contemporary books let you drift into complacence before hammering you with the theme and message, if there is one. Others take you right by the throat in a chokehold from the very beginning, not letting go until you turn the very last acknowledgements page. My Book Of Life By Angel by Martine Leavitt is one of the later, a gritty chokehold sort of book set among the urban grime of an unnamed city. My Book Of Life By Angel does a bang up job raising awareness of the plight and the exploitation of teenage sex workers.
The narrator is a teenage prostitute named Angel, so I think you can take a few guesses as to the mode and tone of the book. My Book Of Life By Angel is a book told in verse. Angel runs away from home after stealing some shoes from the mall. She ends up seduced by this smooth talking guy named Call who then takes advantage of Angel by pimping her out. Angel’s best friend, Serena, has gone missing. She suspects Mr. P, an unidentified serial killer who has been murdering other sex workers. To make matters even worse, Call brings in an 11 year old girl named Melli and expects Angel to take Melli under her wing and teach her how to be a sex worker. Angel, also trying to kick a drug habit, is at her wit’s end trying to find a way to save Melli. Martine Leavitt’s book not only is a fast read because it’s a book in verse and thus a lot of blank space, but because the plot is utterly engaging.
My heart definitely went out to Angel. The girl tries the best she can with what she has. Her life is rough. While her life prior to the streets was not all that awful, I can see why she is at a certain stage in life in the beginning of My Book Of Life By Angel. Although I have never been and will never be a sex worker, I felt an outpouring of sympathy for Angel. What she deals with is awful. It really bothered me how the men in the book fetishized little girls and so Angel would have to pretend to be younger just to turn more tricks. However, Angel is optimistic in that she can turn things around which prevents the book from being completely depressing and makes it ultimately uplifting. You see, despite the world trying to beat her down and trying to beat the heart out of her, Angel retains what makes her a good person despite all that she has been through.
Martine Leavitt does a fabulous job portraying sex workers as humans. She does not demonize them, but merely portrays them as people who fell into a bad situation. Instead, she villainizes the pimps and the johns for taking advantage of homeless girls and naive girls. Yet, she does not shy away from the grit. Characters die. Characters need drugs just to get through the day. Characters experience not only sexual abuse, but physical as well. This is a hard book to get through, especially if you do not have much exposure to the darker side of human nature.
I thought the verse style really suited the story in My Book Of Life By Angel. All of the poems in the book are written by Angel as she recounts her story to us, the readers. Each word felt as though it was crafted with care. When you write a verse book, there’s really no space for the superfluous, so you really have to have your word choice down in order to be successful. Martine Leavitt exceeds the expectations as far as word choice goes. With each turn of the page, I felt as though I was hit in the chest.
Look, I am going to be honest and say My Book Of Life By Angel is no cake walk to read. But it is HONEST. It is REAL. It is gripping. It raises awareness of the issue of sexual assault, especially pertaining to prostitutes. It shows how hard life can be for those struggling with addiction, I know usually we want to condemn people with addiction and tell them to just get their life together, but it’s not always that simple, especially when a myriad of other issues are going on. If you’re looking for a book to show you life at it’s darkest, but also give you some hope read Martine Leavitt’s My Book Of Life By Angel.
Disclosure: Received for review.
Other reviews of My Book Of Life By Angel by Martine Leavitt:
Ms. Martin Teaches Media – “The lyrical language and gritty realism will not be easily forgotten”