Initial reaction: This book took me through the emotional gauntlet and back again. Very well written and presented. Probably my chief complaint for the work was that sometimes the pacing slowed it down, but it was beautifully written. The characters aren't always easy to like, but the motivations and development here? Awesome. Hopefully I can expand upon this in the full review.
Oh my word, this was the best book I've read in a while. Seriously, I don't say that lightly. I think I had a book hangover just from finishing this one, it gutted me so much. Probably also considering there's a major event in this that pulled a punch I wasn't expecting at all, and it came at an emotional time for me (the loss of one of my relatives).
To sum up my reaction to J. Dylan Yates's "The Belief in Angels" - this is the kind of book in New Adult I can get behind. It's really, from what the description had it on NetGalley - Literary and New Adult. I could tell the literary tag because it's very intimate in terms of the writing and the level of detail that was taken to each perspective, and I admired the fact that it had both historical leanings and period specific details that helped shape the narrative. I wanted to hug both Jules and Samuel - the narrative trades between their two perspectives in a generational gap that has them facing unbelievable challenges and odds that shape them along in their lives. They are not perfect characters; they have spaces where they fall out given their own distinct experiences and biases. But I felt like I was right there in terms of following their experiences, from Jules suffering under the hands of her abrasive parents and struggling to find a place to fit within her large family, to Samuel surviving the Holocaust and coming to America to find his own family, and make his place in the world with his respective relationships and carving out dreams he was never able to attain himself.
This narrative may take some getting used to in orientation, because there are time jumps in events for the narrative. Also, while Jules is the primary narrator here, Samuel (Szaja) is an intermediary narrator for key turns in the story - because you realize he's the grandfather that Jules talks about and whom takes care of their family in some spells, even when he's reluctant to do so. But he doesn't come without a heavy hand and hard prejudgments that he adheres to. You see where it comes from though, as well as Jules own ideals and how her experiences with her hard-handed family comes from. I'll admit it gutted me, especially hearing about Wendy and Nathan and how the two of them raised (or rather didn't raise) their children. Wendy's character I came to understand her failings and reasons for her behavior (which were palpable.
The only flaw I can say that I saw in this narrative was the pacing, and that might've been with some of the spells for the time jumps and the structure of the narrative itself. It's a slow burner, but rightly so, as it takes the time to explore each of the character's experiences and delve into that with a competency that just blew me away, quite frankly. Those that are into a blend of contemporary/period/historical setting books with a strong eye towards character will likely enjoy this book, and while it's strong and heavy on dramatic elements, it's beautifully portrayed, and I anticipate reading more from Yates in the future.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.