This is the first piece I have read from Chris Tusa, though I realize that this is not his debut. While writing this review, I check the author’s website at www.christophertusa.com and I realized that he is also the author of Haunted Bones, a compilation of poems which was published in 2006. Dirty Little Angels however is the author’s first novel and it has been making the rounds in the book blogging community. From all the feedback I have gotten, many people agree that the book is pretty good. Indeed, the book is a great read. The way Tusa writes screams of maturity, fluency and talent. His stories are a deafening reality of life in Southern United States.
Based in New Orleans, the book tells the story of a young girl named Hailey who is figuring out her troubled existence while grappling with the problems that beset her family. The story is actually told in first person, narrated by Hailey and I thought the author did a great job capturing a critical stage in a teenager’s life. Hailey was at that juncture where everyone expected her to act like an adult but yet they still treated her like a child. How Tusa dealt with teenage emotions, peer pressure and stereotypes often had me recollecting my year as a sixteen year old. I think only then can you appreciate Hailey’s story.
The story itself was raw, not in the same category as Ansay in Vinegar Hill, but yet it was brutally honest about life in general. For me it drew a lot of parallels to the hit American series Party of Five since both focus their stories on a teenage girl trying to figure out her troubled existence. However Tusa used a number of religious symbolisms throughout this story. From the names of the street to the main protagonist in the story, everything had a religious undertone. The title in-itself is an oxymoron. When we hear Dirty Little Angels, you would never thing that angels are dirty. How the author resolves this oxymoron however is what really ties the story together and helps the reader to appreciate it that much more.
Typical themes in Tusa’s stories are mental illnesses as was well as ways in which contemporary celebrity driven American culture has managed to alter the landscape of the traditional Christ-haunted south. Both themes were very evident in Dirty Little Angels. The theme and perhaps the main conflict in the story was about Christian values of faith as opposed to modernist ideals of “….taking matters into your own hands when God doesn’t answer your prayers.” Pg73- 74. How Hailey reconciles the two at the end of the story gives you the impression that even though society is changing, most people still adhere to traditional Christian values.
It wouldn’t be a Bookventures review if I didn’t include some quotes that really touched me. Here’s a few:
“My History teacher said it comes from the word knowledge in Greek, and that Agnostic means ‟no knowledge. Basically, agnostics think that human beings don’t have enough knowledge to know the answers.” “Sounds like a fancy word for dumbass to me.” Pg 55
“Just, cause your family’s down on their luck don’t give you a reason to go doubting your faith. Jesus is with you all the time. You know that. Even when you’re in the Valley of Darkness. Like the scripture says. He’s even with you then. When you‟re at your worst.” Pg 83
“These days, it seems like everybody’s so damn obsessed with looking perfect. They whiten their teeth, shoot Botox into their foreheads. I guess I like ,em ,cause they prove we’re not so damn perfect after all, you know.” Pg 85
All in all, I think the story was a great one and I look forward to reading more from this author.