Dirty Little Angels – Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels is set in the slums of New Orleans, and follows 16-year-old Hailey as she deals with problems within her family, and the dark world of drugs and violence that surround her.

When I first read the synopsis I didn’t think I’d enjoy the book at all, as I don’t normally go for books full of drugs and violence, but as the author was kind enough to contact me, I started reading the first chapter, and was quickly drawn towards the central character, Hailey. She is only sixteen year-old; I loved her innocence, and her reactions as this innocence is gradually eroded. She spots the signs of her parent’s marriage breakdown, but they try to persuade her that everything is OK:

Daddy’s side of the bed was empty. A few weeks back, he’d started sleeping on the sofa. Mama said he snored too loud, and that when he was in bed with her, she couldn’t get any sleep. I told her about those nose strips that all the football players wear, but she said nothing ever worked the way it was supposed to.

Hailey blames her father for the breakdown of her parent’s marriage, but when she discovers the truth about her mother’s past she struggles to cope. Her brother and best friend draw her into a world of drugs and violence, and slowly her life starts to fall apart.

I loved the imagery of the book:

He had a full head of black hair. It was so greasy, it looked like he’d combed it with an eel.

There were lots of original, comic, but vivid descriptions in this book, and many brought a smile to my face;  this must be the talented poet in the author, Chris Tusa, shining through.

The synopsis suggests that one of the major themes of the book is religion, but I didn’t find this to be the case. The religious aspect of the book only occupied a few pages, and there were no profound revelations, only a few well thought out sound bites:

“So you’re an atheist?”
“I dunno. I thought about being an atheist, but the whole idea of somebody’s belief being that they don’t believe in anything doesn’t make much sense.”

My main criticism of the book is that it is too short. At just 170 pages long  there wasn’t enough room for everything I’d have liked. I would have preferred it to have a more complex plot, and to develop the side characters a bit more.

Drugs, sex and violence all feature in this book, so avoid it if you are of a prudish nature! I did not find the violence in the book to be disturbing, as it was fairly brief, and directed at characters I had no emotional bond with.

The book was gripping, and I would have read it in one sitting if life didn’t get in the way! It was a light, atmospheric, and enjoyable read. Overall, I thought it was a great first novel, and if Chris Tusa writes any more books then I would love to read them.


An interview with the author, Chris Tusa, will be published on this blog soon – so keep an eye out for it!