HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Time of Angels
Author: Karen Hesse
Illustrator: Michelle Barnes
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, republished in 1997
ISBN-13: 978-0786806218 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0786806214 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0786812097 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0786812095 (Paperback)
Related website: http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Said to be for ages 10 – 14, I would say more for ages 13+
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Hesse, Karen. A Time of Angels (published in 1995 by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of the Disney Book Group, 114 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10011). It is 1918, and Hannah Gold, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, lives in Boston, MA, with her two sisters, Libbie and Eve, their aunt, Tanta Rose, and Rose’s roommate, the healer Vashti. Hannah’s parents are in Europe, her mother having gone to care for sick relatives in Russia and been detained by the Great War, and her then father fighting in the war. To make matters worse, Boston, as well as the whole nation and even the entire world for that matter, is hit with an influenza epidemic. A neighbor, Mr. Weitz who is the father of her friend Harry, dies. Tanta Rose also dies, and both Libbie and Eve come down sick too, so Vashti drives Hannah away to go to a relative in New York. However, the girl takes the wrong train and ends up in Brattleboro, VT. Hannah herself becomes ill with influenza but gradually recovers with the help of an elderly farmer of German heritage named Klaus Gerhard, and her visions of angels.
Hannah wants to go home to see what’s left of her family more than anything else but at first is too sick to make it and doesn’t have the money anyway. She is afraid that Libbie and Eve may have died as well. Will she ever make it back to Boston? And if she does, what will she find? There is not much good children’s historical fiction set in the time of World War I, so I was hoping that this would be a welcome addition. I liked Karen Hesse’s Newbery Medal winner Out of the Dust set in the Great Depression. However, while A Time of Angels is all right, it really didn’t impress me all that much. It does have an interesting story line, and I am sure that the tale realistically captures the feelings of despair during that time. The ending is both happy and hopeful, but given its background the book is understandably permeated with a sense of sadness at all the sickness and dying so that it might be somewhat heavy for a lot of younger readers. I would recommend it more for thirteen and up. Also, the plot moves along rather slowly at times and might prove to be a little confusing to some children.
A few common euphemisms (blast, dang) occur, but no actual cursing or profanity. Some boy-girl activity takes place as Hannah is developing a relationship with the neighbor lad Harry Weitz and they kiss on a couple of occasions. When Tanta Rose takes a bath, there is a rather vivid, though not necessarily lewd, description of her naked body. Klaus makes “sumac smokes” for his friends. And the suicide of one of his neighbors in Brattleboro is recorded. All of these things are probably true to the historical setting, but some parents might wonder if they really need to be included in a children’s book. As to religion, several Jewish customs are mentioned, but when Eve says something about God, Libbie says, “Oh, pooh. You and your God.” And Hannah notes, “Vashti spoke this way of God, too.” Then, the reader will have to deal with the mystical element of Hannah’s interaction with the violet-eyed girl angel who guides and protects her. Is it real or just in her imagination? As I said before, this is not a bad book, but there is nothing here which makes me say, “Wow! This is great.”