The Belief in Angels
A Novel by J. Dylan Yates
She Writes Press April 2014
Book – The Belief in Angels
Author – J. Dylan Yates
Star rating – ★★★★★
Plot – excellently told, enjoyable, touching
Characters – very diverse, well explored and relatable
Movie Potential – ★★★★★
Ease of reading – very easy to read
Cover – ✔
Suitable Title – ✔
Would I read it again – ✔
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
I loved and agreed with every word of the author’s note. As a science geek myself, this really captured my attention and intrigued me. I knew after I read this, that if the whole book was written in the same style, with the same attention, then I was going to love it. And I did.
The whole story is profound, captivating and touching. I loved everything, even the parts that were difficult to read, sad and emotional. I completely lost track of time, while reading.
“What I understand now about survival is that something in you dies. You don’t become a survivor intact. Survival’s cost is always loss. This is my mourning book.” As a survivor myself, of cancer, I feel this sentence very deeply. Either the author know this from personal experience for herself, or from another, close to her. I don’t think anyone would/could know or feel this, unless for themselves.
I planned to only read the first chapter, when I started reading this book, because it was late when I started. Then I got swept into the story, from page one, and I was unable to put it down. Little Jules was adorable and her story was heartbreaking, almost from the get go. I love how her coping mechanism is to think of her life like a movie, with a narrator that limits the damage of the serious stuff that happens to her. I love how strong she is, despite all the bad things that happen in her life, and how she’s determined to survive and take care of her brothers, even though she’s so young.
I love Samuel, as a character, and I could see from the beginning that Moses and David were either going to turn out like Jules or like their mother. I couldn’t wait to find out which way they would go.
I found it so sad that Jules spent so long having her home life ignored. Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times, that it was ignored in those days and tolerated. It’s such a shame that she few up calling her parents by their first names, in a disassociation of sorts that helps her cope with what happens.
“We became less like children and more like neglected pets. […] We developed independence beyond out years. Within our own pet universe we found hierarchy and function.”
I absolutely love the inclusion of grandpa Samuel/Szaja’s story and the Jewish element. The author really researched or knew about this era and the personal experiences of the Jewish at this time. The emotion, the trauma and the history was so well explored and delicately handled. I felt like I lived the experience with Samuel, rather than being an outside observer. I also love the way that Jewish words were dropped into the story in appropriate places and never completely explained. They weren’t singled out, as words that needed to be explained, but their meaning was clear through the sentence and their usage.
This part really killed me, and had me welling up, knowing why it took so long and yet, without the author telling me:
“My foter had no way of knowing that my escape from Eastern Europe would take another twenty-five years.
That life, my boyhood life, is the sweetest time. The winters are long and harsh and the work tiring, but the reward of my family, together and laughing, is all I ever needed. I knew this, even then.
But my foter is excited and happy, and it is hard not to be happy with him. Standing there in the orchard with him, the late summer sunrise lighting everything golden as the sun began its slow climb into the day, I inhaled the scent of the ripe apple trees and the damp earth.
“I stood there with a smile on my face, knowing with a dreadful certainty that I would never experience that kind of happiness again.”
I also really love how Jules was very similar to Samuel in many ways; she was spunky, independent, guilty for no reason and feisty. Jules is definitely my kind of girl:
“Kind of in general. Like Jo in Little Women, “I am angry nearly every day of my life.” When anyone makes me mad, I slug them, which gets me in lots of trouble.”
I really love Jules so much. She’s so amazing.
“What did he do to make Paulina cry? Whatever it is, it’s time for him to pay for all the bad things he’s done to Wendy and to us, and I am going to be the person that brings him down. Like Vito Corleone.
You, Jules Finn, will bring Howard Finn to justice, gangster-style.”
This is by far a happy story, but I’m hooked and addicted. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. You can’t just read one chapter at a time. I get so sucked in, when I read it, that I barely see the chapter headings go by. I can’t help but be fascinated to see where the story goes. Samuel’s story is even more heartbreaking than Jules’s story. More than anything, this story is about survival, even in the harshest situations and that comes across in every chapter. Samuel’s story specifically, rings of suffering and pain, while being so honest that it’s painful, because he’s gone through so many things in his life, that real people experienced.
I really love how we, as readers, are spoon-fed bits of history, memory and information, as and when it is appropriate. They often made me cry. I saw a few of the big plot spoilers coming, though I always hoped that I was wrong. It only made it more heartbreaking when it came true later. The absolute worst part of the story, that had me crying for nearly ten minutes and as many pages, was Moses’ big story arc.
I loved all the characters. The bad ones were brilliantly bad, the good ones were amazingly good and the innocent souls were angelic. I liked Timothy the moment David said that he brought Jules books home for her, when she was suffering her hazy memory loss. I think he was the only one who ever noticed her depression and that was when I hoped that he was the one who would love and heal Jules the way she needed him to. I also thought, at this point, that he might have been the dark haired boy she saw when she was in the tree, tripping on acid, thanks to her mother. To me, he is the perfect angel boy, that she thought was Moses.
“I feel like after this, Timothy has become a person who’ll be a part of my story whether he stays involved in my life later or not. He lives in my skin now.
Something else happened to me because of this too.
A hole in my chest opened, and all the tiny silver daggers spilled out.”
The loss that Jules experiences and suffers through her childhood, all before the age of seventeen, is gut-wrenching. Somehow she manages to wade her way through the muck and keeps her emotional hurricane inside her, until she can’t cope any longer. I can well understand just why she ends up making the decisions she makes near the end of the book.
“I understand why all the descriptions of lost loved ones are physically descriptive. Lovesick, heart-broken, grief-stricken. I can feel the loss of Moses in my marrow, my joints, my tissues. It aches inside-out when I think of him. I miss him every day. Sometimes it’s all I can think about. It’s a good thing I miss him, though, because it means I’m feeling things, and I think feeling things is a good way to stay present.”
I think the story has the perfect ending. It’s absolutely perfect to have an uncertain ending for all characters, to avoid the red ribbon tying up every aspect of everyone’s lives. I also think it’s right that the story ends with Samuel’s story, as there will be a second book focusing on his story.
I love that Samuel, Wendy and Jules are all shaped by everything they have suffered and survived. It’s true for Samuel, more than anyone else, who has become the man his experiences have shaped him into. His own story is so much stronger and more haunting than anyone else’s life story. I think it’s well thought out and well planned, that Samuel’s story is dripped into the novel throughout time, when it relates to Jules and Wendy’s story. He’s explored carefully, having his secrets slowly discovered and told, only to the extent of any other war survivor. Most army men and war survivors never speak of their experiences again, especially when their past involved murder, loss and death camps. Samuel’s admission of all that had happened to him, in writing, to Jules, is fitting, since many survivors never want to tell their story, and certainly not openly or in detail.
My favourite quote? It’s between these two:
“I remembered Hemingway and said, “You expect to be sad in the fall. But the cold rain has kept on and killed the spring and a young person has died for no reason.”
“Every action, every word, every day since his death has been tarred with this truth.
Inside of me are tiny silver daggers that cut me with this knowledge every time I draw a breath.
I start to cry, and I can’t stop.”
This story is more literature than general fiction. It is an experience to live, suffer and survive along with the characters, rather than just a novel to read. If you’re looking for something light, fluffy and cheerful then this isn’t the book for you. But if you want honesty, a gut-wrenching experience and a good cry, then pick up this book now. It’s a story that will never leave you, and will relate to every person out there, who has had something to fight against, fight for, and suffered loss.
About the Author
Raised on a tiny, New England peninsula, in Hull, MA., J. Dylan Yates pursued her BFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The Belief in Angels, Yates’s debut novel, was written over the course of many years while she attempted a number of BFA-related jobs, including: waitressing, teaching, corporate training, directing, acting, producing, real estate, nursing, interior design, library science, parenting and reluctant housewifery.
Yates’s next novel, Szaja’s Story, focused on the character created in The Belief in Angels, invites the reader back to the Ukrainian orchards of Szaja Trautman’s tragic childhood, tracing his ultimate journey to America via the desperate Ukranian refugee work camps of the ’20s, his amazing survival of both the Majdanek death camp and the torpedoing of refugees aboard the Mefkura, and his fascinating experiences in the post-war Parisian couture houses.
Prior to publication, The Belief in Angels won the Alexis Masters Scholarship Award at the February 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference as well as a Los Angeles Book Festival Award.
Yates worked with Boulder County’s Voices for Children program as a CASA volunteer for 15 years and now volunteers as a mentor with the Girls Rising program in San Diego. She lives in San Diego with her partner and a talking cat.
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