The File on Angelyn Stark Library Binding – Nov 8 2011
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Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January 1, 2012:
“Spare and taut… this will resonate with many readers, especially those many teens struggling with the implications of their own identity and sexuality.”
About the Author
CATHERINE ATKINS is the author of When Jeff Comes Home, which was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Quick Pick, a Booklist Top Ten First Novel, and an IRA Young Adults' Choice, and Alt Ed, which Kirkus Reviews called "a complex and stellar work" and The Miami Herald called "A must-read for teens." She is a teacher and lives in Northern California.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is an intense book that sometimes reads more like a character study than a narrative, which is okay, since it's a very good one. Angelyn is not an easy person to like, but her struggles and her dialogue just ring with an air of authenticity that makes you angry one minute and heartbroken the next as you see the damage done to her very character, how it colors all of her actions, and how it stands in her way at every turn.
Teens will be riveted by this fast, emotionally brutal read that really cuts to the heart of the issue of abuse and it's effects. The adults portrayed are not perfect, and as an adult reader I wanted to rail against them for their lack of insight,understanding, and generally just poor decision making. Somehow by the end, I was made to walk in each of their shoes; the teacher dealing with his own personal issues and not quite prepared to help Angelyn even though he ultimately proves his worth, the friends who finally told only to be met with Angelyn's anger, and perhaps most difficult of all, the mother who exhibited such uncaring disregard for her child's welfare.
The characters in this novel all present a level of depth and complexity that is pretty amazing given the novel's length. The author achieves quite a bit in a limited number of pages. I will remember Angelyn Stark, her mother, and her friends for quite a while. All of the characters make a searing impression, illustrating the gray areas and human frailties surrounding so many issues. I will be recommending it often to older teen and adult readers.
So who is Angelyn Stark, centerpiece of this novel? For starters, she is a teen who is full of anger, carrying around a huge secret, one she hides from her mother and nearly everyone she knows. She did tell a friend but wasn't believed so now Angelyn carries her burden alone...and it is quite a burden. It affects her nearly every day.
Unfortunately, the same secret is carried by many other teens in real life. In that regard, the novel accurately portrays the guilt, pain, and shame of those who have gone through similar experiences as Angelyn (and no, it isn't teen pregnancy). Angelyn also has a complicated relationship with her boyfriend, Steve, who doesn't understand why she is alternately warm and cold towards him. He takes her ambivalence personally and things get tense between the two. Then there are Angelyn's friends and a new girl who is about to be a major part of Angelyn's life. Mrs. Daly, a former neighbor, crops up as a reminder of Angelyn's past lies and troubles, but she appears in the novel for a relatively brief time. I'd like to have read more about her and wish she'd gotten more space in the book.
Finally - and to me, the most troubling character in this book - is Mr. Rossi, Angelyn's teacher. At first, he seems to be the only person who is truly there for her. Compassionate, kind, and even willing to cut Angelyn a break after giving her detention, he appears to be the one saving grace in her increasingly bleak life. He could be the role model who proves that there are adults who can be trusted to both listen and provide the clear boundaries and rules which an "adult in training" needs. I hoped he would be...and he is, to some degree.
But Mr. Rossi has his own troubles and how he handles them as well as dealing with Angelyn bothered me. I wish I could go into more detail about that. Mr. Rossi does care about Angelyn but the borders of their teacher/student relationship seemed way too muddy to me, especially after Mr. Rossi talks to school officials about Angelyn. I applauded him for making a much better decision after a series of mistakes. But I was still bothered by this character, many of his choices, and the way his personal life impacted his teaching and his ability to help Angelyn. I felt he revealed far too much about his marriage to her although readers may feel differently. Maybe this will make him seem more human, as complicated as any of us.
Again, readers will probably fall into two camps. There will be those who applaud the author for making Mr. Rossi less than a stereotypical hero. Instead, he has troubles which affect his relationship with Angelyn. Then there are those readers who will be discomfited by Mr. Rossi and even angered.
All in all, there is much about The File on Angelyn Stark which is compelling and the author creates a (mostly) believable portrait of one woman's struggles to persevere during a very rocky period in her life.
I did feel that the novel may have been made better if the author had introduced characters that had the professional skills to help this dysfunctional family through some of their experiences. The ending seemed a bit too "pat" and not necessarily as true to life as it could have been. However, it would make a great read for parents and teens to discuss and use to open a dialogue that could draw them closer together.
Now some may say that this book is too harsh for teens. I think we protect our teens a lot more these days and that's a good thing, but my generation had much more graphic books than this in the teen section, in fact, there's no real graphic sex in this book, only mentions of sexual acts. Of course, the worst of it deals with teen abuse and neglect.
I spent many years working as a unit director on an adolescent psych unit. I felt great compassion for the main character, Angelyn. Her behavior IS often bad, but that's the consequences of what has happened to her - that's the way she is coping. That's the way her mother is coping. This book is a lot about coping and how sometimes the way we cope can be bad for us - and we can either gain insight and change it, or something happens and we have a crisis and it all comes to a head, or we let it destroy us.
Now I am in a position to continue to be close to several abused and neglected kids. There are kids out there that could really USE a book like this. I hope that school librarians DON'T see it as potentially too controversial to have on the shelves.
I do think adult women will enjoy the book as well. Perhaps we have all had our issues with 'do you care about me or do you care about sex' enough to identify with several of the characters, but especially Angelyn. Perhaps we've all known women that have a lot of conflict about sex, or that used sex so that people would maybe like them.
It's a good lesson to young women, in my opinion. Older girls, I'd say, 15 or up, depending on the teen, could gain a lot from the study of Angeline's behavior, as she tries so hard to be tough, and cool, but she's so wounded, and how she wants deeply to open up and share, and to be liked, but her tough and cool attitude causes her to primarily be around people that are users.
Perhaps young girls will see the beauty in Jen, as she's got her own problems but she's real, brave, and true as a friend. Or perhaps they will get a glimpse into the value of good friends and hardworking young men like Nathan.
I think there's a lot of really, really good values to be learned here, even though the story is about something tragic and perverted.
Please, please- I really encourage school and hospital librarians to consider the value a book like this might have to a young woman struggling with these or similiar issues. I think that therapists might find value in it as well. There's just SO much value in this book.
Angelyn Stark is a smart but damaged girl. He stepfather repeatedly touched her inappropriately when she was 13 and now she has issues with intimacy, no surprise. She has a boyfriend who pressures her for sex and two "friends" whose loyalty seems to change with the wind. Her mother is the bad mother you hear about who either ignores or flat out doesn't believe the abuse is happening. She treats Angelyn like crap. That's why when Angelyn's teacher, Mr. Rossi, tells her she's smart and shows her some attention, she latches on to him in a way that could be bad for both of them.
There's not much I can say about this book that won't give away too much. The summary on the back cover is rather vague about what happens with the teacher, so I don't want to spoil it. Personally, I found the teacher likable, as well as Angelyn. The story is a bit depressing and you want to strangle Angelyn's mother and "friends", but I didn't find it to be hopeless.