Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Angel of Thirteenth Street"

Review - "The Angel of Thirteenth Street" by Eden Winters

Stunningly beautiful work

Very Highly Recommended

Noah owns a bar on Thirteenth Street.  Actually Twelfth Street, but who wants to tempt fate, right?  In a tough neighborhood filled with drugs, violence and prostitution, through sheer force of will and personality he turned the place into a spot people would want to visit again.   Rugged, scarred, alone, his real mission is to help get young men working the streets back home, or at least somewhere safe.  On the streets, they call him, sardonically, the Angel.

Jeremy is eighteen now, aged out of the foster care system, but not finished with high school yet.  Alone on the streets, he is trying to stay safe long enough to finish school, win a scholarship and go to college.  He just has to dodge the street gangs and pimps looking to recruit new talent.  Seems his old boyfriend Trent is a recruiter for Willie, the pimp who runs the area. 

A chance encounter brings Jeremy to Noah's attention.  Determined to keep the young man safe, he makes a deal with the devil to keep Jeremy safe.  Seems Willie is Billy, Noah's boyfriend from his days living on the street.  Can Noah save this young man's future without damning himself along the way?  And can he open himself back up to love?

This book was one of those amazing perfect storms that doesn't happen very often.  The characters are so sharply drawn, but disturbingly human and shaded and nuanced, the storyline engaging and relevant without pretense, the dialogue crisp, and the romance heartbreakingly painful and bittersweet.  I was drawn in and grabbed from the first page, and was unable to put this book down until I had devoured it whole.

All of the main characters are so strongly constructed - Noah, Jeremy and Willie.  Jeremy is the true innocent - eighteen, a streetsmart survivor, open and vulnerable without being a fool, but tough and resilient without hardening his heart.  Noah is a knight with a mission; paying his savior back by helping as many young men as he can leave the sex trade.  He is so wrapped up in others, he sacrifices himself and his happiness. 

And the most intriguing and complex character of all - Willie.  A streetwise hustler as a young man, now a ruthless and hardened pimp and procurer, he is an enigma.  He both uses young men, according to his own twisted code of ethics, but also funnels runaways back to Noah for rescue, under the guise of "thinning the herds".  I was both drawn to and repulsed by him, but totally, totally fascinated.

And this book is all about relationships. 

Jeremy, such a young man with an old soul, self sufficient, betrayed by his one boyfriend.  I would have expected him to be bitter and hardened, but Ms. Winters chooses to make him still a romantic at heart.  He falls for Noah, but is it a case of gratitude and hero worship or true romantic feeling? 

And Noah, so closed down to love, but so hopeful, just for others.  He has dedicated himself to rescuing these young men so they have a true chance at happiness, but at the cost of shutting himself off any chance of love and hope for himself.  What stirs in his gut for Jeremy cuts dangerously close to what he felt for Billy, so he clamps it down under the pretense of the age difference.

And Willie, or Billy.  So quick to deny Noah his love when they were younger, and so determined to remind him he doesn't believe in love.  This man appalls me, but there is just something about him that kept making me  Noah loved him.  Why?

And then we find out why, and our hearts break and we bleed along with these tragic young men and then we are put together again and made whole and get to hope for them again.

God, I loved this book.  I read it through twice just to savor what it tastes like and feels like and smells like when a master prepares a feast for me. 

Read this and wonder.


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