Halo, by Alexandra Adornetto

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot summary before: a boy and girl meet; one of them is the new student at school; they feel an undeniable, inexplicable connection for the other.  But then, one of them drops the bombshell that they are a supernatural creature!  Alexandra Adornetto appeared to follow this formula when she wrote Halo in 2010.  Except she went with something much more controversial and less touched on in YA fiction: angels—real angels. Like, they’re agents of Heaven sent on a mission to do good, but then…oops.  One of them happens to fall in love with a human!

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Three angels: the archangel Gabriel, the healer Ivy, and the newbie Bethany are sent to live in Venus Cove, a sleepy coastal town, where they will perform services to make people turn away the dark forces in the town.  They don’t encourage too much interaction with humans, as angels have all the connection they could need working for God.  And yet, they still allow Bethany to attend school, where she inevitably falls in with the popular crowd, and crosses paths with the school captain, Xavier Woods—much against the code of angels and maybe even the safety of Venus Cove…

When I first saw this book, I was totally bewitched by the cover art, and I was intrigued by a love story involving angels. I was pretty surprised, though, to find out how much hate it had gathered.  People endlessly praised the author for publishing so young (she is apparently the daughter of two English teachers and published her first book at fourteen years old), but said the book had many, many problems.  And I agree with almost all of them.

Bethany started off all right. I kind of liked her descriptions of Heaven, and she, Gabriel, and Ivy had a kind of cutesy chemistry.  But then…Bethany ran into Xavier, with his nut-brown, floppy, silky hair, and almond-shaped, azure, blue, sapphire eyes.

Oh…my lord.

I wasn’t just naming those adjectives for example’s sake: Bethany uses all those throughout the book and with startling frequency.  I get that sometimes you have to put in adjectives to remind your reader what a character looks like.  But Bethany must have carried a thesaurus like a priest and his Bible.

Oh, yeah, she also mentions a lot how perfect he is. That was a problem I had with Twilight: if a male character acts and looks perfect, and the female counterpart says time and time again how PERFECT they are, then they are NOT good characters.  A character is not a character if they have nothing to contribute to the story aside from what stoic, caring, amazing SAINTS they are!  Xavier never fails at anything, or does anything rash or unusual, except when it’s convenient for the plot.  He plays four sports, is captain of them all, and is even school captain, whatever that means.

Actually, Xavier kind of creeped me out with how NICE he was.  When he and Bethany meet, they’re fairly cordial, having just met.  Then he runs into her again at school, and he acts like they’re old chums.  When Bethany goes to a party with her new “friend” Molly (we will get to her later), and gets drunk, Xavier, the kindly knight he is, drops her back off at home, and even comes back the next day to check up on her.  Because he is just that SMILEY and NICE!  I swear, every other description was of him smiling, chuckling, or something more about his nut-brown hair or his ocean-blue eyes.

I could go on a whole rant about how authors SHOULD NOT put perfect characters in their books, but the short version is that since Xavier is pronounced a perfect character, and sickeningly comes across as such, I didn’t like him.

It got worse after Bethany and Xavier decided to begin a relationship. There have been great romance stories, but that’s because the characters had some reasoning behind their romance, and were characters apart from each other.  It was sick, and kind of disturbing, to hear Bethany talk about how sick she felt without Xavier, and that not talking to him for a few hours was akin to the world ending.  She might not have used those same words, but her attitude about being away from him was immature.  Sure she is only a fledgling angel, but there are other things in life besides one measly boy…I mean, COME ON…

The other characters, perhaps with the exception of Gabriel and Ivy, were just as shallow and annoying.  Molly, Bethany’s first friend, for example, reminded me of a worse version of Jessica from Twilight: boy-obsessed, loud, and obnoxious.  She even tries to get Gabriel to notice her, even though he is the school’s music teacher, and she a student.  But worse, when Jake Thorn, our villain, sabotages Bethany and Xavier’s relationship, Molly decides to drop her boyfriend and go with HIM.  If Molly really cared about Bethany, she would have called Jake colorfully awful names, rather than “cool” and “unique.”

Jake Thorn, with his British accent, silky black hair, and a snake tattoo, doesn’t show up until two-thirds of the way through.  It is blatantly obvious, from his mannerisms and captivation of the students, that he is not good news.  Bethany conveniently chooses to ignore these signs until it is too late, even calling him a friend even though he has done nothing to make her feel comfortable.

Oh, Bethany…poor, dear, stupid, insipid Bethany…

Bethany had promise.  She seemed to understand that there were rules to protect the angels from humanity’s darkness.  But then, once Xavier comes into the picture, all her senses go out to the door, revealing herself as an angel when they’ve barely been going out, saying the rules can go to hell as long as they can be together.

And what do Gabriel and Ivy do throughout all this?  ENCOURAGE it, of course.  They told Bethany not to get too close with other humans, but when they realize her connection to them might be stronger than can be helped, they say, “To hell with it.  Let Bethany make friends, even though it’s going to get her in trouble when this mission is over.  Not to mention the possibility of falling in love.  Oh, wait, she’s already done that?  Whelp, too late.  Might as well play along.”

This book is clearly aware of its angelic characters.  Gabriel and Ivy help out at a church, and they expound upon how glad they are people are coming back to God.  But they say it less like coming to church is a gentle spiritual awakening and more like people were absolutely CRAZY for not having come to God before.  This kind of talk was halfway interesting when Bethany first explained what it is like to be an angel, but soon it becomes condescending and tiring.

Okay…so for all that I have said about how bad the characters are written and how screwy their ethics are, is there ANYTHING good to be said?

Well, I will agree with other reviewers when I congratulate Adornetto for writing something so engaging when she was only eighteen. It’s just under five hundred pages, and I read it in three days. Others complained about the purple prose used in describing the surroundings in Venus Cove.  This was one complaint that I didn’t agree with, since it all seemed like another world I haven’t seen, and it sounded like just the kind of place angels would settle.

I expected this book to be bad, from all that I read. It’s still not a book I would proudly display on my shelf, except as an example of what YA fiction should not be.  Bethany is not a good role model, and Xavier is much too perfect for even the most romantic of teenagers.  There is better fiction about angels out there, unless you care for a preachy lesson in Christianity and what it feels like to have a beautiful, crap-brown-haired, moldy-blue-eyed boyfriend.

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