Sunday, March 11, 2012

Letter Essay #3: A time of Angels

Dear Mrs. Shanley,

Due to an extremely unappealing cover, a boring blurb, or perhaps (most likely) both, I've put off reading "A Time of Angels" for three years now- the amount of time I've had this book ever since it was given to me as a gift. The book is by Karen Hesse, and tells the story of a teen girl named Hannah who's parents are trapped in Russia by the war. Therefore, she lives in small Boston apartment with her sisters and her Tanta (Aunt) Rose. Tanta Rose and Hannah both work hard to support the family, but Rose's companion Vashti is annoyed by the girls.

When she is not working to help her family, Hannah draws. Lately, she's been drawing what she sees- angels.  Soon, many people in the neighborhood fall victim of the disease. When Rose is killed by the influenza epidemic, Vashti decides that the best course of action is send Hannah away into the countryside, where relatives are to care for her. On the train ride there, she catches the influenza and misses her stop in Albany, ending up unconscious and under emergency care in Vermont. Throughout all this time, Hannah is helped by a mysterious girl with black hair and violet eyes. Because of the influenza, Hannah's throat is badly damaged, and she's rendered unable to speak, writing and drawing in a notebook to communicate instead. A kindly old man who refers to himself as "Uncle Klaus" takes her in and nurses her back to health. During her time with Klaus, Hannah learns about kindness, giving, prejudice, and pain, as Klaus is of German blood and shunned by many of the townsfolk.

Constantly haunted by the fear that she has abandoned her sisters, Hannah, with the help of Uncle Klaus, earns money to pay for a train back to Boston. When back home, Hannah finds everything changed: many people dead, families torn apart, empty streets, and nearly every school and business closed. She rejoices to find her sisters alive and well. At the end of the book, Hannah reflects upon her journey and thanks the angel girl with violet eyes who helped her.

"A Time of Angels" was definitely a very engaging read. Even though the plot was a little extreme, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Karen Hesse has a way of letting the reader have a strong emotional connection with the characters (have you read "Out of the Dust"?)- I really could feel what Hannah was feeling (it was pretty stressful), and imagine all the places in the story, even though the author didn't actually put in too much of an in depth description of the setting(s).

Another thing I liked about "A Time of Angels" was that it actually taught me some stuff! From it, I've figured out three random folk cures: first, skim milk fixes broken cups, second, drinking excessive amounts of vinegar helps cure influenza, and finally, that oats wrapped in a little cheesecloth bag make for a more soothing bath. Yes, they're strange. I'm pretty sure that I'm only going to try the broken cup thing...

However, there was one major problem in the book that stood out to me. After all of Hannah's good times in Vermont with Uncle Klaus, she left for Boston way too... easily. ""One to Boston, please," I said, putting Uncle Klaus's money, Ottiwell Wood's money, my moose maple money under the grill." [Hesse 227] With this quote, Hannah describes paying for her ticket back home. There was very little hesitation to leave Uncle Klaus anywhere in this section of the story, and I didn't understand that. Personally, my heart ached when Hannah went back to Boston, because I couldn't help but think of how happy she was in Vermont, and how much Klaus must've missed her.

Also- the last sentence was a downer. "Slowly, making our way back across the rooftops of Chambers Street, Harry and I went home." [Hesse 269] This sentence was almost a complete book killer! All the pretext of it was amazing, magical, and described Hannah's ethereal encounter with her angel. All that, and then you give me "we went back home"? From a celebrated and award-winning author like Karen Hesse, I expected more. Exactly what I expected, I'm not sure, but I know that I wanted more.

In conclusion, the book "A Time of Angels" was a satisfying read with some errors, which while they left me with some questions, did not do too much damage to the overall quality of the text. After reading this, as well as the "Out of the Dust", I'm definitely thinking about investing some more time into Karen Hesse's works. Her stories are so creative and intricately woven! I'm sure that "A Time of Angels" is going to be one that I'll revisit over and over again.


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