Angel Thieves is Kathi Appelt’s first foray into young adult novels. It encompasses three interwoven stories told non-chronologically, a bayou that holds more secrets than a confessional, “Angel Hunters,” and the plight of ocelots being poached for their skins in Texas. Appelt wraps it all up in stylistic prose that reads like a great storyteller spinning tales with cold lemonade, on the porch, in mid-July. As you continue reading my review you’ll notice there is a lot to like in this book.
That’s the thing though. There’s just so much book in this book.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster/Atheneum for an ARC for an honest review.
To be fair this is the first book penned by Appelt that I’ve read so I can’t compare it to books aimed at a more middle grade audience. I can say that when she decided to aim for an older audience, she swung for the fences in character arcs, themes, contemporary parallels and literary technique.
Scenery and setting burgeon into characters while characters from different time periods collide through themes that run true through all time periods. Strength of spirit, belief, hope and the faith that it can come together to bring forth justice, and peace; these are the common threads that are interwoven throughout their stories, binding them together.
Slavery, immigration, non-traditional families, devastating natural disasters, poverty and animal cruelty are all addressed throughout Angel Thieves. All hold a place for the recurring themes of faith, freedom, spirit, hope and justice. Despite the different time periods, plot lines and character arcs, none of these parallels feel forced or out of place. These issues are perfect vehicles for the themes Appelt revisits throughout the story.
Throughout all these stories, in ever time period, the bayou observes. It watches and it remembers. Every name, everything and every occurrence. It knows these people, their trials, successes and torments. It will tell you its stories if you are willing to listen and sometimes it may even call upon you to bring salvation if you are lucky enough to hear it whisper your name.
There are clear-cut villains but most characters fall on some spectrum of the rainbow like all of us. We are both capable of great good, great mistakes and doing what we have to, to survive.
If by now you are thinking, um… can you get on with what the bottom line is here? I don’t blame you. The problem is I don’t think I can because I’m not sure I know and that is the largest fault with Angel Thieves. It kind of reminds me of Infinity War where you just can’t believe how much movie is in that movie. The difference being that where Infinity Wars doesn’t lose you in all that movie, ultimately Angel Thieves lost me in everything it tried to do.
To Appelt’s credit, she tried to do a lot but you can’t do it all in one book. A couple hundred pages into the story and you start wondering what is even happening because every time you think you the plot is picking up steam? The back story of another character or another timeline or another theme or event is introduced and it all becomes just too much.
I really wanted to love this book. In the beginning I found myself caught up in the beautiful style of writing, the themes and contemporary world parallels. I thought the mysterious connections through a hundred years would be epic. And Zorra, the ocelot. How could you not care for her and root for her to be safe?
There is an audience for Angel Thieves. It will sit better with those that like the more atmospheric writing styles. It is a quick read and there is a lot to be gleaned from it. If you are thinking about reading it then you should.
For me? I’m going to get frustrated when we hit around 200 pages of 350 and more voices, time periods, settings and characters are being introduced without being any closer to understanding the characters and mysteries already introduced.