“When I met his eyes, something entirely different happened. I had an instant gut-wrenching phsyical reaction as if the world were falling from under me and I had to steady myself to stop from falling with it.”
–Bethany Church, p. 38
While the rest of the world is preoccupied with vampires, wizards, and witches, I found myself reading about angels, courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. In her first U.S. debut, eighteen-year-old Alexandra Adornetto takes the world by storm with her latest creation, Halo. The first book in a three-part series, Halo tells the story of three angels—Gabriel, Ivy, and Bethany—sent by Heaven to bring hope to a world about to be consumed by darkness. Clear as their mission was, Bethany, the youngest and most human of the three, could not help becoming sidetracked from it. The credit goes to a lone boy she met at a pier who calls himself Xavier Woods.
Angels in Physical Form
Three passages in the Bible contained descriptions of angels. In Ezekiel 1:6-9, angels are said to have “four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.” These angels are called cherubim, and they have a sphinx-like appearance, to say the least.
In Daniel 10:5-6, the description of the angels is closer to how human beings perceive them to be. “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”
A good story is not without good descriptions. Alexandra Adornetto gives readers a glimpse of her own vision of angels, as seen through the eyes of a young boy riding his bicycle:
He looked up just in time to see a column of white light receding into the clouds, leaving three wraithlike strangers in the middle of the road. Despite our human form, something about us startled him – perhaps it was our skin, which was as luminous as the moon or our loose white traveling garments, which were in tatters from the turbulent descent. Perhaps it was the way we looked at our limbs, as though we had no idea what to do with them, or the water vapor still clinging to our hair. —pp. 1-2
Strangely, the words ‘wraithlike’ and ‘tattered garments from their descent’ actually painted in my mind images of Dementors and of wizards disapparating. In addition, the angels’ arrival on earth reminds me of Gabriel’s arrival in the movie Legion. Have I been watching too much movies? Perhaps. A more fascinating description of angels can be found in the following passages:
We angels didn’t have a navel – just smooth white skin, freckle and indentation free. Our wings are feathered but paper thin and folded flat across our backs. —p. 42
Angels didn’t get tired; our energy was limitless and so didn’t need to be conserved. We didn’t perspire, either; we could run a marathon and not produce a single drop of sweat. —p. 44
Note how Alexandra Adornetto described the angels’ wings. Whether in movies or in plain images, angels have always been portrayed to have these enormous eagle-like wings that are far from being paper-thin. Yet, by describing the wings as such, Alexandra Adornetto was able to give these angels a more ethereal feel to them—one that is of delicate and extremely refined nature.
Gabriel, Ivy, and Bethany in Human Form
The descriptions of angels mentioned above, however, pertain to the general population of angels in the book. Our three main angels have their separate descriptions that are more detailed and more human.
In his physical form, Gabriel might well have been a classical sculpture come to life. His body was perfectly proportioned and each muscle looked as if it had been sculpted out of the purest marble. His shoulder-length hair was the color of sand and he often wore it pulled back in a loose ponytail. —p. 16
Gabriel, to me, looked like one of those apparel models from Hollister or Guess. He is such an eye candy although, as Bethany said in the book, he has the tendency to attract too much attention. Especially from the female species. (I can already imagine the giddy young girls screaming with glee. This, I believe, is a good way to promote readership.)
Ivy is a seraphim. In Isaiah 6:2, the seraphim are being described as “each one having six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” This description of the seraphim does not fit Ivy at all. I like how Alexandra Adornetto made the seraphim more feminine than it actually is.
In her physical form, Ivy looked like a Renaissance Madonna with her swanlike neck and pale oval face. Like Gabriel, she had piercing gray rain gray eyes. —p. 17
Of the three, Bethany considers herself the most plain. She is one of those transition angels at the bottom of the rung as she so humbly described.
In my physical form, I looked ethereal like my family except my eyes were as brown as river stones and my chestnut brown hair fell in loose waves down my back… I was created small, fine-boned, and not especially tall, with a heart-shaped face, pixielike ears, and skin that was milky pale. —p. 17
Romeo and Juliet Caught in a Love Triangle
With the success of novels such as the Twilight saga, The Vampire Diaries, and The Immortals series, teen fiction is becoming more and more popular to the young readers these days. The seemingly overrated theme of young love has proven to be a driving force in boosting readership among the young ones.
Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo not only tells a story of young love but it also explores the more exciting aspect of it—forbidden love. The quote prior to the the book’s table of contents was taken from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What else could be more fitting than the star-crossed lovers from Verona? (Yes, I intentionally uploaded this picture of Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio from the modern day adaptation of the Shakespearean classic, mainly because Juliet is a representation of Bethany in this picture.)
Xavier Woods was the first human being that Bethany interacted with. While her brother and sister merely nodded in response to Xavier’s greeting at the pier, Bethany stepped forward and started talking to him.
I suppose this was the first sign of my weakness—my human curiousity drew me forward. We were supposed to interact with human but never befriend them or welcome them into our lives. Already, I was disregarding the rules of our mission. I knew I should fall silent, walk away, but instead I gestured toward the boy’s fishing reels. —Bethany, p. 9
Looking at Bethany and Xavier’s first encounter, I remembered my Social Psychology lecture on physical attractiveness. While we are familiar with famous quotes such as “beauty is only skin deep” and “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” research studies had been conducted to show that appearance does matter (Myers, D., 2005).
In meeting Xavier Woods, Bethany was drawn to him not only because of his physical attributes but also of a higher, inexplicable power. Later on in the book, as Bethany and Xavier interact more, readers will find a familiarity between them that may be likened to the idea of kindred souls.
I took another step forward for a closer look. The boy’s light brown hair was the color of walnuts. It flopped over his brow and had a lustrous sheen in the fading light. His pale eyes were almond shaped and a striking turquoise blue in color. But it was his smile that was utterly mesmerizing. So that was how it was done, I thought: effortlessly, instinctively, and so utterly human. As I watched, I felt drawn to him, almost by some magnetic force. —p. 9
Molly’s description of Xavier as being “emotionally unavailable” (p. 41) reminds me of the character of Edward Cullen in Twilight. I can picture Xavier as being brooding and socially detached. The reason for this was because his ex-girlfriend Emily died in a house fire two years before the arrival of Bethany in Venus Cove. According to Molly, no other girl has been able to measure up with Emily. This is why Xavier’s interest in Bethany Church—and vice versa—makes their love story all the more romantic. (I give credit to Alexandra Adornetto for I would never have imagined saying this even though I am a hopeless romantic myself.)
With a title called “Halo” I could not, of course, help but be reminded of Beyoncé’s song of the same title. In fact, two lines from the song were quoted along with the Romeo and Juliet excerpt. The song was beautiful, and as I studied the lyrics I realized that this could be Xavier’s song for Bethany. Every line is perfect for these lovebirds. If you have not heard the song, here’s the music video.
All this mushy talk about love and attraction is not entirely accepted, escpecially by Bethany’s dear brother Gabriel. As older siblings, it was Gabriel and Ivy’s duty to look after Bethany, she being new to this earthly mission. Old-fashioned Gabriel is like a strict Filipino father who forbids his daughter to go out on dates. However, Gabriel’s concern was more than just about Bethany eloping with Xavier. He was afraid that Bethany’s inability to “withstand the charms of a pretty boy” may impede their mission, causing them to fail and leave the fate of humankind in the merciless hands of the Dark Forces. The following passages is one of my favorite exchanges from the book:
“She tries my patience!” he said, but quickly collected himself. “What do you advise?”
“Put no obstacle in her path, and this will surely die a natural death; obstruct her, and it will give the situation an importance worth fighting for… In time she will come to understand that what she seeks is impossible.”
“I hope you’re right,” Gabriel said. “Do you see now why her part in this mission concerned me? […] The depth of her emotion is unnatural for one of us… Our love for humankind is supposed to be impersonal—we love humanity, we do not form individual attachments. Bethany seems to love deeply, unconditionally—like a human.”
“So I’ve noticed… Which means her love is much more powerful than ours, but also more dangerous.”
“Exactly,” said Gabriel. “Such emotion often cannot be contained—if we allow it to develop, it may soon be beyond our control.”
Bethany’s so-called ‘relationship’ with Xavier has its repercussions. If Bethany decides to fully commit with Xavier, then does that mean she had to give up her heavenly nature and become human? Is that bargain even possible, considering the delicate nature of their mission? If this Romeo-and-Juliet love story is already exciting as it is, then Alexandra Adornetto made it even more exciting by introducing a mysterious character.
My life on earth up till then had been filled with minor drama and the angst of youth, but I was about to learn that these troubles had been child’s play compared with what found us next… I don’t think we could have avoided it; it was part of our story from the very beginning. After all, things had been running relatively smoothly; we were bound to hit a bump. We just didn’t expect it to hit so hard. The bump came all the way from England and had a name: Jake Thorn. —p. 257
Again, credit to Alexandra Adornetto for the beautiful play on words. I do love metaphors. Not only is he a ‘bump’ in this strange affair of things, but Jake Thorn is aptly named for his role in the story is definitely ‘thorny’. Giving away the character of Jake Thorn is very much like giving away half of the story, so I leave it up to you readers to find out just what kind of bump Bethany and Xavier had gotten themselves into.
Of God and the Space Between Heaven and Hell
“I’d never seen God. I’d felt his presence and heard His voice but never actually come face to face with Him. His voice wasn’t what people imagined, booming and reverberating as depicted in epic Hollywood movies. Rather it was as subtle as a whisper and moved through our thoughts as gently as a breeze through tall trees.” —Bethany, p. 159
Alexandra Adornetto played it safe in terms of giving a description of God which I think is a good move. Although it seems quite a challenge trying to come up with descriptions of angels and what they do in the Kingdom (and making them appear logical), it is even more challenging to describe the image of God. This particular chapter in the book proves to be unpretentious and does not boldly attempt to describe the indescribable.
Strangely enough, I ended up imagining God in much the same way as Michelangelo had: a wise old man with a beard, sitting on a throne in the sky. My mental picture was probably inaccurate, but there was one thing that couldn’t be disputed: No matter what his appearance, Our Father was the complete embodiment of love. —pp. 159-160
Another notable thing in the book was the concept of Limbo. Being in Limbo is a punishment for sins. When Bethany asked what Limbo was like, Ivy said that it comes in different forms—a waiting room or a train station, for example—and Gabriel said that according to some souls Limbo is worse than Hell.
“That’s ridiculous,” [Bethany] scoffed. “What could be worse?”
“Eternal nothingness,” said Ivy. “Year upon year of waiting for a train that’s never coming, waiting for someone to call your name. People start to lose all sense of time, it blurs into one never-ending stretch. They beg to go to Heaven, try to throw themselves into Hell, but there is no way out. The souls wander aimlessly. And it never ends, Bethany. Centuries can go by on earth and they will still be there.” —p. 183
In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Limbo is found in the First Circle of Hell where the unbaptized and pagans reside. They are not directly punished for their sins but they grieve because of their separation from God, without hope of reconciliation.
I see more of a resemblance to Christopher Nolan‘s concept of Limbo from his movie, Inception. Limbo, as it is referred to in the dream realm, is an expanse of infinite raw subconscious. While the time scale in limbo is stretched out to a much higher extent, very few people have gone into limbo due to its risks. I say this because the idea of eternal nothingness paints a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character (yes this review appears to be biased with films featuring DiCaprio) trapped in a world where he sees Mal’s projection.
Dancing to the Rhythm of Good and Evil, of Light and Darkness
While ‘angels falling in love with mortals’ is the more popular theme in Halo, one must not disregard its less obvious and subtle take on the nature of good and evil. This book is aptly written at a time when our world is experiencing too much chaos.
You only had to open a newspaper or flick on a television to see why we’d been sent: murder, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, war, assaults on the elderly… the ugly list went on and on. There were so many souls in peril that the Agents of Darkness were seizing the opportunity to gather. —Bethany, p. 19
Moreover, their hope was that their subtle influence will result in people reconnecting with their spirituality, restore faith, and believe in miracles. But, as Father Mel pointed out, “We cannot force them to have faith. But we can demonstrate its great power.” (p. 173)
Gabriel’s teaching stint at Bryce Hamilton School was masked by his (good) intention of making ‘converts’ out of high school kids. They are, after all, very vulnerable to the Dark Forces related to their susceptibility to earthly whims and fantasies. Ivy, on the other hand, had volunteered at an old folks’ home. In addition, their involvement in Church cannot be missed. While Ivy and Bethany were altar servers during Sunday Mass, Gabriel helped Father Mel in giving out Holy Communion.
This fight against Evil is given more and more attention as the story progresses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it extends to the third book. Halo is a reminder of what we are like and what we are capable of doing—whether it’s good or bad—as human beings.
A Final Word on Human Encounters
I consider Halo as a unique coming-of-age story. The use of the first-person narration (in the point of view of an angel) is perfect in exploring different aspects of humanity—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although there were several passages in the book that I found funny (and true), I have decided to share two, both of which had something to do with social cliques in high school.
It was funny how being an angel didn’t make me any more prepared for the first-day nerves of starting somewhere new. I didn’t have to be human to know that the first impressions could make all the difference between acceptance and ostracism. I’d listened in on the prayers of teenage girls and most of them centered on being accepted by the “popular” crowd and finding a boyfriend who played on the rugby team. —p. 27
Even in school uniform, it wasn’t difficult to distinguish the particular social groups I’d observed in the Kingdom. The music posse was made up of boys with shoulder-length hair, untidy strands falling over their eyes… There was a small minority of goths who had set themselves apart by the use of heavy eye makeup and spiky hairdos. Those who liked to think of themselves as artistic had accessorized their uniforms with berets or hats and colorful scarves. Some girls traveled in packs, like a group of platinum blondes who crossed the road with their arms linked. The academic types were easily identified; they wore pristine uniforms with no alterations and carried the official school backpack. They tended to walk with a missionary zeal, heads down, eager to reach the sanctity of the library. —pp. 27-28
My Own Halo Cast
(Yes, I spent time googling images of actors and actresses that I would like to play the main characters of Halo if it were to be made into a film.)
You Know It Does Not End Here
In the Acknowledgments page of the book, Alexandra Adornetto writes, “The Halo series is a project in which I have invested much emotion and energy.” This is very much reflected in the book. Although I am not a fan of teen fiction, I found myself flipping through the pages and reading the book with ease. While I found some parts too mushy, I think that teen-fic lovers would enjoy this book as much as Alexandra Adornetto enjoyed writing it.
About the Author
Alexandra Adornetto is now eighteen, and was fourteen when she published her first book, The Shadow Thief, in Australia. The daughter of two English teachers, she admits to being a compulsive book buyer who has run out of shelf space, and now stacks her reading “in wobbly piles on my bedroom floor.” You can visit her on Facebook.
Myers, D. (2005). Social Psychology, 8th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Co, p. 432.
Hatfield, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D., & Rottman, L. (1966). Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 508-516. (p. 433)
Book cover at http://yareads.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Halo.jpg
Cherubim picture at http://www.healing-journeys-energy.com/image-files/angels-cherubim.jpg
Picture of Gabriel from Legion at http://studiocut.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/legion_gabriel.jpg
Seraphim picture at http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_sASWNY4JZqo/S9cT1wcwpCI/AAAAAAAAAL4/q6_WXMDVKAo/s400/seraphim_by_chicken32678.jpg
Romeo and Juliet picture at http://maryjanemilgram.com/romeo_and_juliet_01.jpg
Picture of angel hugging man at http://media.photobucket.com/image/angel%20hugging%20man/nywoman33/ANGELS%2520FAIRES/angelhuggingman.jpg
Fallen angel picture at http://b.pcc4.fubar.com/54/15/3265145/2400251047.jpg
Inception movie poster at http://www.mynewmovies.net/images/2010/06/Inception-movie-poster.jpg
Celebrity pictures googled as typed