Desert Angel is a seriously terrifying and tense story. Angel is a teenager whose whole life has, so far, consisted of moving from one place to the next as her flakey mum works through a succession of abusive relationships. The only constant in her life is her relationship with her mother, but even that has been taken away from her by Scotty, her mum’s last boyfriend. Last ever boyfriend that is, after an argument got even more heated than usual and Scotty’s bloodlust ended in murder.
Angel knows something terrible has happened as she follows Scotty out into the desert. There she finds her mother’s shallow grave, her body hurriedly hidden. There’s no time for Angel to grieve, Scotty is dangerous and she needs a plan. My heart nearly broke as Angel stuffs down the pain she feels:
‘Angel could feel the cry coming, bad, huge, and it scared her. What if she couldn’t stop? What if she broke apart? She pushed the sadness away. Got hold of it. Wadded it up. Made it tiny. Put it down deep.‘
She knows she has to run, but Scotty is an experienced hunter, unlikely to let her go without a fight. But Angel is tough, and her whole childhood has been about running and hiding. And so the cat-and-mouse game begins. The tension is unbearable at times, I was almost holding breath, willing Angel to keep one step ahead of the odious Scotty. He is a truly disgusting individual, with no shred of decency or contrition. I can only wonder what happened to him to make him so wrong. That’s the thing about this story, it made me think about the impact of suffering and trauma on the psyches of people. Angel has been abused, dragged up, neglected but she’s this amazing young woman. Of course she finds it hard to trust anyone, and can come across selfish and uncaring. But she also shows compassion and has so much love to give. Her determination to survive is inspiring.
She’s helped by a whole community of people, many of whom are illegal immigrants in the U.S. These are decent, hard-working people ready to come to the aid of someone less fortunate than themselves, despite their own hard-pressed circumstances. Because of their lack of citizenship they are outside of the law – by which I mean they are unprotected by it. Scotty and his cronies can threaten and intimidate them knowing that to report such offences opens them up to the unwelcome scrutiny of the authorities. Angel’s presence puts many lives at risk.
Desert Angel is a hard-hitting, unflinching story, that forces some very harsh realities before our eyes. Angels’ situation is about as far from my own experience as I can imagine. I don’t know if I could muster as much fortitude and courage as she does. I do know that I wish she didn’t have to. Reading this book, all I wished for her was a safe place where she was loved. I got very emotionally involved in the story, it’s powerful stuff I think, and I’d recommend it to both teen and adult readers.