In the Arms of Stone Angels by Jordan Dane
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: April 1, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin Teen; Original edition
Pages: 316 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Two years ago, when she was fourteen, Brenna Nash stumbled upon her best friend, Isaac Henry AKA White Bird, of the Euchee tribe in Shawano, Oklahoma, in the aftermath of a brutal murder of a white, teenage girl. Though Brenna had known Isaac for over a year and had never seen him act in any but the gentlest manner toward animals and people, she instantly assumed he had committed the murder and turned him into the police. In spite of her status as a witness against her friend, her former friendship with him led to her and her mother, a real estate agent, being stigmatized in Shawano, and her mother soon moved them away.
After leaving town, Brenna sought no information about White Bird from her grandmother, who was still living in Shawano, and she descended into a rage-filled, self-destructive depression, manifesting as rebellion toward her mother, isolating herself, and deliberately mutilating herself by cutting her arms and legs.
Brenna's only comfort in her abject misery during that period post-trauma up to the present moment has been to visit graveyards. She has the gift of seeing ghosts and, far from frightening her, their presence feels comforting. No doubt in large part because they never speak, which prevents them from making demands as living people do.
Suddenly, when Brenna is sixteen, her mother informs her that her grandmother has died and left her home to Brenna's mother. Her mother insists that they must return to Shawano, prep the house and sell it. Brenna at first flatly refuses to return to the scene of the source of her despair, but eventually she succumbs to her mother's wishes.
Once she is back in Shawano, Brenna cannot resist finding out what happened to White Bird and discovers that he has not been sent to jail for murder, but is confined to a mental hospital where he has been in a catatonic state since the day of the murder. Brenna sneaks into the hospital, finds him sitting alone in a wheelchair staring into space, and touches his arm. She is instantly pulled into a hellish landscape and, since her paranormal ability has previous consisted only of seeing ghosts, she is terrified that she is going insane.
After this experience, Brenna feels guilty for her part in White Bird's terrible condition--and afraid for herself. Then, as if all that weren't awful enough, friends of the murdered girl make it their mission to confront Brenna on numerous occasions, letting her know that they blame her for the murder almost as much as White Bird because she was his friend.
Surrounded by enemies on all sides, with a mother who refuses to leave town, Brenna has nowhere to turn, and the dead--including the murdered girl--are no help at all.
In an unusual departure for YA--though not uncommon in adult thrillers--this book is written in many different points of view, at least four of them villains and several adults. To distinguish Brenna from the other point-of-view characters, her voice is in first person ("I said"), and all the rest are in third-person ("he/she said").
Though the heroine is presented as apparently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there is no mention that she has ever had therapy. Yet many of her thoughts are those of a mature adult who, from some distant time, is reflecting back on this awful moment in her youth from the perspective of someone who has had therapy. For example: "I could have spared Mom the attitude...but attitude was all I had left," and "I guess Mom had her reasons and I had mine. And maybe we both had something to prove." Some readers may find this pulls them out of the story, but for me personally, the distancing this provided from the main character helped me to deal with the many awful things done to the heroine, by herself and by others.
The author of this book, Jordan Dane, has written many best-selling adult thrillers which are best known for their "very damaged characters" in plots sometimes referred to as "21st century noir." She states on her website that when writing this book, she was determined to create a gritty story for teens. She has certainly succeeded in her goal. This YA thriller is by turns shocking and frightening. So much so, including a scene with sexualized brutality (though not outright rape), that this book is best suited to the R-rated, over-17 end of the extended YA age range of 11-19.
This book is strongly recommended to fans of thrillers. Fans of Jordan Dane, in particular, will find this book an exciting read.