The New York Times
In the complex story that unfolds, Paterson asks her readers to think about what it means, exactly, for one person to be responsible for another, and what it takes to be a good person. She throws light on how abuse, mistrust, selfishness and abandonment can be passed down from generation to generation; and how promises that aren't kept can break hearts and poison the soul. The spark of light in Angel's life comes from a mysterious neighbor, who shows her the heavens in his telescope and evokes a fascination with astronomy that takes Angel where she needs to be. — Lois Metzger
Eleven-year-old Angel Morgan has had to grow up too soon. Her father's in prison, her mother shirks responsibility and her little brother needs someone to take care of him. When their mother abandons the two children at the home of their great-grandmother, Angel feels hurt and scared. Yet her new life in rural Vermont has consolations, including the town's perceptive, friendly librarian. Outstanding characterization, realistic dialogue and effective imagery distinguish this heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful novel.
An 11-year-old girl looks out for her younger brother after their mother leaves them with their paternal great-grandmother. "The heroine's blossoming friendship with a mysterious `star man,' combined with her intelligence and abiding trust in the direst of situations, will persuade readers that she will rise above her circumstances," according to PW's Best Books citation. Ages 8-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2002: It's difficult to decide what is a YA novel, but in the end I feel that this story of a resilient child (11 years old) will have appeal to readers even older than she is, in the way that One Child by Torey Hayden appeals to all ages. Psychologists are wondering more and more why certain children seem to have the resilience to survive neglect and abuse, and why they are able to act like responsible adults for themselves and younger siblings when the need arises. Angel Morgan is just such a child. She lives in Vermont and would be classified by sociologists as part of the rural poor. Her father is in jail; her mother is incompetent. After a visit to the prison at the beginning of the narrative, Angel's mother puts Angel and her younger brother Bernie into her old car, drives them to the father's grandmother, and then drives away, leaving the children with their great-grandmother. This is history repeating itself, because Angel's father as a child was dumped here as well. This is not a loving, nurturing grandmother, and her confidence in her own ability to raise children is nonexistent, for good reason. Angel manages the whining Bernie brilliantly and finds a way to get food on the table because she knows that canned peaches and baked beans from the grandmother's stock are insufficient nutrition. She gets connected to the local library, enrolls herself and her brother in school, endures the humiliating comments from her classmates, and generally copes with life's problems as they arise. She is nearly defeated, however, when her mother comes to Bernie's school secretly and takes him away, not communicating with Angel at all.Since Paterson is a skilled author, and because she is a person of great compassion and understanding, she tells Angel's story in a way that helps us understand Angel's strength, without layers of useless sentiment. We don't see the child as a superhero, but we do see her as a kind of hero: courageous, loving, and amazingly resourceful. You may wonder where the title comes from, and in fact "the same stuff as stars" is a major theme of the story because Angel finds inspiration to continue struggling with this life by reading about stars and constellations and astronomy. (Her favorite books are Know the Stars, by H.A. Rey, and Starry Messenger, by Peter Sis.) She sneaks out at night to share a telescope with the broken-down man who lives in the old trailer on her grandmother's property. This man, who turns out to be her uncle, tells her that all the elements that go into building our bodies in fact are made up of the same stuff as stars, and thus we are connected to the universe intimately. For Angel, this is enough to keep her from total despair. Thanks to the fine talent of Paterson, children's literature has another memorable heroine. KLIATT Codes: J*Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2002, HarperTrophy, 270p., Ages 12 to 15.
Angel's life has been anything but heavenly. She and her brother have been in and out of foster homes and their father is in jail. They are back in the care of their mother, but not for long before she takes them to their paternal great-grandmother's house. Not only will 11-year-old Angel have to take care of her 7-year-old brother, Bernie, but she has to care for the elderly woman as well. Angel discovers the beauty of the stars in the night sky and meets a stranger with a telescope who tells her they have met before and he teaches her about the constellations. Wanting to know more, she finds solace and a friend at the library. Angel is a resourceful character who must learn to deal with the kidnapping of Bernie, the teasing of classmates, visits to the jail and the sudden appearance of her father, as well as the death of the star man. In Paterson's capable hands, all the threads of the story come together in a satisfying ending to a story that presents the many facets of family relationships. She adeptly conveys the essence of each of her fully developed characters. Readers will quickly get caught up in this fluid and beautifully-told tale with a heroine who is simultaneously strong and vulnerable.
A gently written tale of family caught in the most corrosive of situations, this is a story of guilt and reconciliation. Indeed there is plenty of guilt to go around. Eleven-year-old Angel and little brother Bernie have "parents that acted like spoiled babies and a great-grandmother who needed a mother as much as they did." Dad is in jail and the children are at the mercy of their mother’s irresponsible, mercurial moods. She abandons them with their prickly great-grandmother, who lives a hardscrabble life in a ramshackle Vermont farmhouse. Then she returns to "kidnap" Bernie, breaking Grandma’s and Angel’s hearts. After the mother’s drunken boyfriend has an accident in which she is almost killed and Bernie is injured, the family seems headed for reunion. Some characters may have been seen before: from the feisty grandmother with the soft center who herself has failed several generations of children, to her Vietnam-veteran son whose life has been ruined by drugs, but who is one important adult in Angel’s life. Central metaphors are best stated by the wise, elderly librarian (the only truly unselfish adult in the book) to whom Angel turns in each crisis. Miss Liza, the only physically misshapen character in a world of crippled adults, quotes the Bible to remind Angel that God is always mindful of man, that He "hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor." Angel is indeed angelic. She is the selfless caretaker, the responsible "adult" in a world where she’s always left behind and always disappointed by the very adults who ought to love and care for her. If she’s almost too good to be true—constantly buckling seat belts, lecturing on the five foodgroups, and fussing over proper outerwear in the cold—readers will recognize her and root for her because the odds are so badly stacked against her. (Fiction. 10-13)
From the Publisher
"A gently written tale of family caught in the most corrosive of situations,…readers will recognize and root for Angel." Kirkus Reviews, Starred
5Q/5P "Paterson's deft characterization, her insight into the human soul, and her glorious prose make this book one to rejoice over." VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)
"Paterson’s beautiful words root the wonder of astronomy in gritty details of daily survival. This focused story evokes timeless tales." Booklist, ALA
"Thanks to the fine talent of Paterson, children’s literature has another memorable heroine." KLIATT
"Those who love her work will celebrate; those who aren’t familiar with it will have discovered a new star." Riverbank Review
"Paterson’s salt-of-the-earth style is in fine form here, making Angel’s dilemma credible, and Angel herself a compelling and believable figure." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"...Magical book...takes place in the most unmagical...circumstances...complex story...about what it takes to be a good person." NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW New York Review of Books
"Angel is an ultimately triumphant character." The HORN BOOK GUIDE, Pointer Review Horn Book Guide, Pointer