It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! This month’s pick is The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea, which the publisher describes as the definitive Mexican-American immigrant story.

I have to admit, this one took me a while to get into. The de La Cruz family is big, so there are lots of characters to keep track of through multiple generations. On top of that, the storyline shifts from past to present, to further in the past, and back again. I was working so hard to keep track of who everyone was, I didn’t have much headspace left for what Urrea was doing on a deeper level.

Something happened though in the last third of the book that brought it all together for me. Big Angel and Little Angel had those conversations lying in bed together, maybe being as honest as they’d ever been with each other. It was painful, it was awkward, but their honesty really got me in the feels. Even as I could see how sad Big Angel’s situation was, I thought how sweet and good it was for him to have a chance to say the things he needed to say to the people who mattered most to him. It made me think about what constitutes a “good” death. I think Big Angel had as good a death as anyone could hope for.

Another aspect that resonated for me was Big Angel’s reflection on things he had done in the past that he regretted or felt guilty about. It seems like a given, even a cliché maybe, to say that no one lives a perfect life, but if we’re lucky enough to live as long as Big Angel, we’re going to do things that hurt others, things that haunt us, things we would take back if we could. I really admired Big Angel’s efforts to face those things squarely and own them, and then to try to atone for them. The line when he says, “I am so dirty”—who hasn’t felt that way? That feeling that if people really knew you, they wouldn’t love you anymore? Big Angel’s struggle with those feelings made me want to give him and his whole family a big hug.

I read another book by Urrea, Into the Beautiful North, a while back, so I knew to expect dashes of his signature humor, and I was not disappointed in that regard. The scene at the border with the parrot in the cleavage! Perhaps not what we’ve come to expect from a story about crossing the border, but damn, that’s comedy gold. I also loved the scene when Big Angel faced down the gangbanger and set him away with his tail between his legs. Another situation that could have been scary and dangerous ends up defused by humor.

I’m glad I stuck with this one because by the end I realized I’d gotten a lot out of it. Hope you liked it too! Comments are open below. Can’t wait to hear what you thought of The House of Broken Angels!

Posted
AuthorTaryn Pierson
2 CommentsPost a comment

It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! Our selection this month is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by Irish author John Boyne.

I loved this book so much I am more likely to slobber all over it than write anything coherent about it. It’s pretty much everything I want from a reading experience: fabulous writing, a page-turning plot, and characters you will love more than ice cream. With good books, you get one out of three, great books maybe two out of three. All three of those things in one book is like hitting a literary grand slam.

Not only have I never read such a long book so quickly, I’ve rarely if ever wished a book were longer. I am the type who wants to read every book as fast as I can and move on to the next. When I got to the end, I wished Cyril had lived longer so I could have read more about him. Really, I would have been fine spending more time with many of the characters in his orbit, not least his indomitable mother, Catherine Goggin, who after a humiliating experience at the hands of a priest as a pregnant teenager goes on to become the modern, self-assured woman we all aspire towards.

There are a lot of coincidences in Cyril’s life, people and themes that circle around him, popping up with either very good or very bad timing. I can see how some readers would find all these coincidences unbelievable and therefore not enjoy the story as much, but for me, the slightly fantastic aspect suited just fine. The comedic elements really worked for me too, as they brought relief from the many sad and infuriating experiences the characters suffered. If I hadn’t read reviews ahead of time and therefore anticipated the humor, I likely would have been taken aback by the occasional stroke of whimsy the novel offers, but instead I was just delighted. I also loved the hopeful note that persists throughout. Because the story covers such a long time period, we get the pleasure of seeing both Cyril’s growth (stuttering though it may be at times) and the growth of Ireland as a country, though of course neither ever approaches perfection. Flawed but lovable characters like Cyril are such a joy to me.

One thing that struck me was Cyril’s long journey to being his true self. It makes me so sad that so many people have been and continue to be prevented from being who they are and finding love in their own way. Also, it’s clear Boyne has a bone to pick with the Catholic church, and as I have a number of issues with it myself (although fortunate enough not to be raised in the faith), I rather enjoyed the takedown.

So what did you think of The Heart’s Invisible Furies? Comments are open below. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this one!

Posted
AuthorTaryn Pierson
4 CommentsPost a comment