The best YA fiction makes the reader forget about everything else. With a quick opening, compelling characters and a clear black and white, good vs evil plot, it's a breath of fresh air from the shades of grey reality we all live in.
A Shimmer of Angels by Lisa Basso is just such a book. Clean enough for the most discerning of parent, yet compelling enough to keep an adult up tale rading, it's the perfect read for a snowed-in winter weekend.
We start with Ray, a teen girl struggling to be normal. Since her mother's death, she's seen angel wings on the occasional stranger in public. Her father, perhaps a bit grief-stricken after the loss of his wife, turns this problem over to therapists, and eventually psychiatrists, and ends up with his elder daughter in and out of psychiatric hospitals with a schizophrenia diagnosis.
Finally out, medicated to the gills and with more mental tics than when she went in, Ray is determined to have a normal high school experience. She has a best friend, a part-time job at a diner, and is keeping up with school. She's learned that normalcy is something to be cherished, and has a running tally in the back of her ind of how many days it's been since she's seen wings.
Her carefully crafted new life starts to unravel when the wings come back. This time, they're attached to a new boy at school. Cam, short for Camael, starts out friendly enough, sitting next to her in History and trying to get to know her during lunch. He even befriends her best friend Lee in an attempt to get in her good graces.
To Ray, however, Cam represents everything she's been trying to put behind her. She fully believes that the psychiatrist's diagnosis, and has internalized the idea that the wings are nothing more than her broken mind's attempt to come to terms with the loss of her beloved mother. She might be able to hide the fact that she's seeing wings again from her father, but not if she has to keep interacting with the subject of her delusions.
The she meets Kade.
Apparently a regular at the diner she's begun waitressing at, he's different than all the other winged people she's seen. Instead of glowing white wings, his are a luminescent black, that both absorbs the light and shine with an almost slippery sheen.
And then the suicides start.
Now, with the help of two winged helpers that can't trust each other, Ray is the only person who can track down what's happening to her classmates. The only thing connecting the deceased students is a picture of a winged man that each draws before his death, and which has been haunting Ray's dreams.
Will Ray be able to solve these deaths, protect the ones she cares about, and avoid being sent back to the SS Crazy in the process?
Highs: From the hurt friend who doesn't understand why Ray has become so distant to the petulant younger sister, even the minor characters in this story react just as one would expect.
Lows: While it makes sense that Ray would come out with a few new neuroses, it's hard to imagine that a 13 year old would be institutionalized for seeing non-destructive hallucinations, and that as a 16 year old, Ray would still see herself as crazy after she finds out the wings are real after all.
Verdict: Despite a few plot hiccups, A Shimmer of Angels is a wonderful bit of escapism fit for both younger teens and their mothers.
Further Reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, The Painted Boy