Desert Angel is the story of Angel, a fourteen year old girl caught in a destructive, inappropriate relationship with her mother’s boyfriend. After he kills her mother, she is in a fight for her life because Scotty is a hunter who is determined to find Angel and silence her forever.
This book is included in the YALSA 2012 nominations for Best Fiction for Young Adults.
Angel thinks she is all alone in her struggle against Scotty; however, many surprising people are willing to help her, putting themselves in danger. This is about people with true generosity of heart reaching out to a girl who finds it nearly impossible to trust others. Even though her new friends are poor, they give what they can to help.
Mr. Price has a taut writing style that encourages the reader to turn the next page and makes it hard to put the book down. The setting of southern Arizona, in all it sparse, unforgiving grandeur is like Angel’s own life, full of harsh reality and unexpected richness. Many would write off Angel as “poor, white trash” and let her get lost in the system; however, the Hispanic community along the border rescues her from a terrible future. Mr. Price treats all of his characters with respect, even the evil ones, allowing the reader to see them as three-dimensional people.
Content to Consider: (Spoilers)
Violence: FREQUENT, DISTURBING
Scotty and Angel’s mom have a fight; he kills her mom and buries her body in the Arizona desert.
Angel’s mom had a long history of abusive boyfriends. That violence (and some sexual abuse) trickles down into Angel’s life.
Scotty is a hunter so his trailer home is stocked with guns and knives. Angel tries two of his guns, but she doesn’t get to keep either one.
Scotty hits Angel with his fist, ties her up, burns her with a lighter, and tries to suffocate her. He set his trailer on fire to hide her body and the rest of the evidence.
Scotty kills the animals of a family who gave Angel shelter and sets a car on fire as a warning to the community.
Angel meets another girl, younger than herself, who has witnessed (and probably been a victim of) domestic violence.
A boy connected to the family that first helped her goes missing; foul play is suspected.
Scotty follows Angel to a small town and begins to stalk her and the woman who is helping her.
Angel steals a gun and hides it away.
Angel returns Vincente’s gun, but then she takes another gun from his friend’s truck.
Angel takes several shots at Scotty, missing every time, but she realizes belatedly that she might have shot her friend, Rita. Scotty also has a gun which he points at Angel.
“Off-screen”, Scotty kills a boy who was willing to give Angel information.
One of her friends uses his shotgun like a bat to strike Scotty.
Angel gets some actual instruction on using handguns safely at the end of the story.
Crude, Vulgar, or Profane Language: INFREQUENT
A young girl flips the bird at Angel.
Hell is used a few times.
Vincente calls Momo several very crude nicknames, all referring to male anatomy.
Scotty has slept with Angel even though she is only fourteen. This is not detailed, but the fact is mentioned, and he is not the only man who has made improper sexual advances toward her.
Obviously, Angel’s mother has traded on her sexuality to provide for herself and her daughter.
During the final showdown, Scotty starts right in with the inappropriate comments and suggestions about Angel and their relationship.
Drug/Alcohol: OCCASIONAL, SOMETIMES ILLEGAL
In the very first sentence of the book, the reader is told that Scotty is drunk and Angel’s mom is high on crystal [methamphetamine].
Scotty is also drunk when he attacks Angel in his initial attempt to kill her.
Angel sees some teens drinking beer in front of a store.
Scotty uses dope, pot, crystal, and X (Ecstasy) according to Angel.
One of Scotty’s partners drinks a quart of gin and then goes off for “medicinal beer”.
Angel remembers that her mother took sleeping pills and passed out.
Momo gets a small bag of dope to “pay off” on informant (another boy).
Angel winds up taking possession of the dope and hands it over when the time comes.
Momo helps Angel search through several bars as she looks for Scotty.
Scotty buries Angel’s mom in a shallow grave which Angel discovers. He goes back and moves the body so that Angel won’t know where he put it.
Angel’s mother is an example of an all-too-common occurrence, a woman completely dependent on the goodwill of men for her support, trading on her sexual appeal in exchange for that support. Angel doesn’t know any other way of life; she is dragged from place to place, only receiving a poor “home school” education from her mother. (This is not a poke at home school; it’s what Angel’s mom uses to excuse her own bad behavior.)
Angel is in flight mode, and she doesn’t trust adults enough (for good reasons) to let them help.
Scotty is into all kinds of illegal activities: selling weapons, poaching eagles and turtles, buying narcotics. He has buddies who buy and sell to him and are willing to help him recover Angel.
As usual, the victim (Angel) blames herself.
Angel also exhibits the typical behavior of the hunted, a constant hunt for survival supplies. She’s always taking stock (like breaking into locked places) in case she needs to quickly take something she needs before she runs away.
Angel considers suicide, especially if she thinks that Scotty will get to her.
This story involves vigilante justice because some of the adults in the story make plans to take matters into their own hands.
At one point, Angel chases off and runs away from the people who want to help her and tries to accomplish her goal of tracking down Scotty by herself, putting herself in extreme danger.
The people of a small Catholic congregation help Angel get out of town undetected. They are subjected to terror and loss through Scotty’s vengeance.
My Personal Opinions:
Desert Angel is a book that is appropriate for older young adults. It reads like adult fiction even though it is about a young protagonist. Ironically, even though the book is about a fourteen year old girl, I wouldn’t encourage my own daughter to read it at that age. Hey, this section is called “My Personal Opinions”. If your young reader wants to read this book, read it first and be prepared to discuss statutory rape, child molestation, and violence against women.
I was impressed with Mr. Price’s grasp of the young, female mind. There’s been some misguided discussion in the writing community of whether a man can write a young female lead or a woman can write a young male lead. It’s a ridiculous discussion, and this book is a good example of a male author writing about a young female in an authentic way. Well done!
For older, struggling readers, the Lexile puts it within their grasp, and the subject and plot will hold their interest.
Desert Angel by Charlie Price
BY KATHRESE MCKEE
Date: October 25, 2011
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Lexile : HL670L