Sharon Creech can write anything she wants. The Newbery Medal winner has a sure touch and ready audience for her fiction so The Unfinished Angel was no risk for her. It’s an odd little book but endearing. The angel of the title has flitted about a small town in the Swiss Alps for…a very long time…”maybe hundreds of years”. S/he (angels are genderless, but you knew that) speaks a sort of pidgin language sprinkled with muddled words and hesitations. The angel doesn’t actually have a brief, has never seen another angel, doesn’t know where heaven is and mostly hangs out in the Casa Rosa tower and flishes in people’s heads to inspire them to do the right thing.
Along comes a brassy little American kid named Zola with her distracted father and three layers of skirts, two blouses, six or nineteen hair ribbons and all in loud clashing colors that look very beautiful. She can see the angel. In fact, she begins at once to boss it around. Zola has an open heart and a highly developed sense of justice so the angel begins to be very busy and only slightly annoyed.
There are a passel of orphans hiding in an old chicken coop to rescue and an arfing dog to shush (that one is a fail) and some hard grown-up hearts to melt and ruffled feathers to smooth over everywhere. The angel rushes around, still confused about what angels do and wondering constantly why s/he is an unfinished angel and not a poised, decisive spirit with a grand mission and a clear set of instructions.
The tale is charming. One of the most delightful chapters—they are all extremely short scenes and there are many of them—details the angel’s reaction to Zola’s memory of the angel that hovered over her premature brother in his incubator until he was out of danger. It looked to Zola like a pigeon and the angel is flummoxed and dismayed to think s/he might resemble a pigeon.
The Unfinished Angel isn’t complicated, although it manages to touch on the human predilection for war, neighborly spats, human loss, sorrow and need, the vacuity of consumer culture, the innocence and optimism of children, and how the language of the heart trumps the dictates of the head for happy endings. The book is aimed at kids and middle grade readers—if you are an especially theatrical reader you could succeed with this as a read-aloud for a younger child. It’s very funny, a tiny bit tense in spots and will leave you with a warm feeling, if you aren’t hopelessly and intractably cynical. You may never look at pigeons in quite the same way again.
The Unfinished Angel Sharon Creech | HarperCollins 2009