Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Publisher: HarperTeen; First Edition
Pages: 448 pages
Source: Amazon Vine™
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Sixteen-year-old Clara Gardner is one-quarter angel, born of a human father and a mother who is one-half angel and is over 120 years old but looks less than 40. Full-blooded angels are all male, and they sometimes mate with human females, producing offspring like Clara's mother.
Clara's angel blood allows her to speak any language, human or animal, and birds follow her wherever she goes. She can learn any physical skill easily and perform it effortlessly, and the most difficult advanced-placement classes are a breeze for her. She heals from wounds very quickly, is gorgeous and, best of all--she has retractable wings. Unfortunately, the one thing she doesn't excel at is flying, which is a really important skill for an angel-blood to develop.
Clara's father deserted her mother several years ago, and Clara resents him for that, but her mother is nurturing and protective. Clara has learned from her mother that one of the key elements of her angel heritage is her "purpose," a significant mission to help a person badly in need. The angel-blood purpose is typically revealed gradually through a series of visions when the angel-blood is in his or her teens. When Clara begins having visions of herself and a boy she has never met in a forest where there is a fire, it is immediately clear to her mother that Clara is beginning to receive spiritually imparted information on her purpose. When Clara sees a license plate number in one of visions, it provides enough information for her mother to figure out that the boy Clara needs to save is in Wyoming. Clara's mother immediately moves Clara and her fourteen-year-old brother to Jackson Hole from their long-time home in California so that Clara can fulfill her purpose.
Because this is the first book in a projected trilogy about angel-bloods, it deals mostly with Clara coming to terms with her angel heritage. In particular, she has a very hard time learning how to fly, and she finds this excruciatingly frustrating because her whole life she's instantly succeeded at everything else she's ever attempted. She also spends a great deal of time discovering the full extent of her "purpose" by meeting and attempting to get to know and understand the boy of her visions, Christian Prescott, who is in her class at the local high school. He is the most beautiful boy in the school and dating the most beautiful girl. Clara feels a strong pull toward him, and struggles with figuring out if she is supposed to merely rescue him or also fall in love with him.
In the process of dealing with both the flying and her confusion about her purpose, Clara is frequently torn between the two sides of her nature. The part of her that is human longs to live an ordinary teenage life, and this is also something that her mother encourages her to do. She warns Clara and her brother to never reveal their angel natures to humans, because if too much attention is put on them, it could summon the attention of "Black Wings." These fallen angels are virtually invincible, and they are a major threat to angel-bloods. Unfortunately for Clara's quest to act like an ordinary human, though, her angel qualities set her apart from everyone around her except her mother, brother, and a half-angel girl named Angela, whose father is a Black Wing who raped her mother.
The writing in this book is well done. The world-building with angel mythology is quite interesting, and Clara and her friends are all characters that are enjoyable to spend time with. My personal favorite is Angela, who has a strong, dynamic personality. In addition, the story's love triangle, a feature that is found in the majority of YA novels since Edward and Jacob first appeared in Twilight, is handled in a unique and refreshing way.
For those who are looking for a YA contemporary fantasy that has an intriguing setup, but avoids sex (other than mild kissing scenes), drinking, drugs, violence, and romance that borders on obsession--this book is for you. It can safely be read even by pre-teens, and many adults who read YA fantasy will enjoy it as well.