Angels in YA Literature (Part 2) – Closer to Godliness

An article in The Guardian, published April 2010, discusses Philip Pullman as a possible trendsetter for the current onslaught of angels in YA fiction. One of the voices of the article claims that “on the ladder that goes up from the mushroom to God, angels are one rung above us”– angels are seen as superior to vampires because they are superior to humans and thus, are “more fertile ground” for the inspired author and the greedy YA reader.

In the second book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman introduces a pair of supernatural lovers in the form of homosexual angels, who meet with the tween protagonists in one of the parallel worlds featuring prominently in the trilogy. Whilst the angels are not major characters in the series, their presence is significant not only for the connotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost (Pullman cites the story as one of his major inspirations), but also because their description is a massive departure from previous religion connotations of winged beings. The ‘nouveau angels’ from Pullman’s books in their own unusual manner and description express a need for companionship, and feelings of desire and love – previously human-only traits.

Angels in YA literature, as touched on in Part 1 have become like teen humans, hormones-a-racing and usually with something to prove. It should come as no surprise then, that teen protagonists in these supernatural novels are now being written by their contemporaries – teens themselves.

On the homefront, Alexandra Adornetto, at the tender age of 17 has three books to her name from when she signed a publishing deal with publishing giants HarperCollins, and is now embarking on an entirely different journey with Halo, due for release later this year. The twist lies in the way the angels in this book are portrayed – they’re not the tortured, dark supernaturals we’ve come to expect, but rather have their own more ‘heavenly’ reasons for investing themselves in earth’s affairs.

But Alexandra’s not the only teen Aussie on the brink of international angel fiction fame. When I first picked up Charlotte McConaghy’s Arrival (Book 1, Strangers of Paragor) mid-2009, I’ll admit it was total cover lust, and not much else. It was only when I’d finished reading, and completely fallen in love with the characters and the world-building of Paragor, that I discovered the author finished writing the book when she was 16! The heavily-anticipated second book in the series by Miss McConaghy, aptly titled Descent, has been released this month. While angels play a fairly small part in Arrival, there’s the promise of more angel action in the later books, portraying angels as the hero messengers – not so far from its original religious context as one would expect from a teen growing up in the age of Twilight, Hush,Hush and Fallen.

The overwhelming feeling one garners from these books is that new Australian YA angels in fiction don’t fit the Edward Cullen mould. They seem, strangely, to be moving away from the tortured and tragic Byronic teen love interest. With Aussie teens themselves weighing in on the heavenly side of the angel craze, the character of the angel in literature lends itself to a new interpretation – is the craving for angel fiction in YA circles not in fact a generation looking for the new vampire, but rather the evolving natural rebellion of a generation in need of a character closer to God?