Dirty Little Angels is a gritty read

This slice-of-life story by Chris Tusa, published by the University of West Alabama in 2009, tells the tale of Hailey, and her dysfunctional family.  Set in the American south, populated by poor whites, blacks and a smattering of Hispanics, the plot revolves around Hailey’s coming of age and culminates in a murder and encroaching mental illness.

The characters of Hailey, Cyrus, Mama, Daddy, Meridian, Chase, and Moses are fully drawn, through dialogue as well as action. Each of them is flawed; some with redeeming qualities, others with none. Verma is the wise but ailing crone, trying to assist the family to function in a community beset by unemployment, alcoholism, depression, infidelity, and poverty. Uncle Errol is the villain who wants to evict Hailey’s family. Mr Guidry represents the suffering of a Christ like figure, someone who has accepted his impending death with grace and humour.

The author limns the socio-economic conditions of the community in conversations between the characters that capture the idioms and speech patterns peculiar to the deep south. The layers of poverty of the physical surroundings and the spirits of the characters are captured in the interactions between them.

Not a fast-paced thriller but rather a psychological drama, the book outlines a teenage girl’s path from an innocent to someone scarred by life. Seen through Hailey’s eyes, the characters are gritty, and in the main they are damaged to one degree or another. Some references are made to religion, but the work is not what could be categorised as Christian fiction. The themes interwoven throughout the book speak to the cost of human frailty, revealed in damaged relationships and the legacy such frailties leave for future generations.

The work paints an effective and realistic portrait of the levels humans will sink to in order to survive, and the resilience of the human spirit and family bonds even in the face of human frailty and betrayal. The author’s writing style is accessible, but the sufferings of the characters make it an uneasy read. Although it is written through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old, it may be disturbing for young readers, and the level of violence and sex makes it unsuitable for them.

It rates a 3 out of 5 stars. Recommended for readers who like realistic drama.

 


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