Alex Gutteridge’s ‘Last Chance Angel’ is a truly exceptional novel for children (particularly girls) of about ten to fifteen.
The premise of this novel is one which doesn’t feel as if it will make for a comfortable or a positive read, and yet the book emphatically manages to be both of those things. Fourteen year old Jess is knocked off her bike, then lies in a hospital bed, in a coma, dying. But a disorganised Angel of Death, Darren, gets the date of her death wrong, with the result that Jess is granted an extra few days in which to invisibly visit, and effectively, haunt her friends and family before her proper death day arrives.
Those days of visiting friends and family could be morbid. They could be sentimental. They could be trite. But they aren’t because of the sheer skill of plotting and character creation and writing employed. A large cast of characters are wonderfully, movingly and humorously brought to life on the page. Darren himself is a camp and rather spiteful jobs-worth of an angel, but even he becomes sympathetic by the end! Jess gets insights into her group of friends, who, like her, are fallible. She can help some, gain insights into others. And the same is true of her imperfect, but very likeable, family. The result is surprisingly profound, making for a compelling read as we come towards the end, and Jess is given a choice that makes us reel.
Jess is given the ultimate moral personal dilemma. Darren tells her that she can avoid death now, but only if she will sacrifice the once best friend who has since betrayed her. Will Jess choose for Sarah to die so that she can live? This is edge of the seat stuff, really exciting, but also moving and thought-provoking. Brilliantly, the ending does surprise.
Alex Gutteridge has a rare gift for observing families and friendship, but also places, with a sure and kind eye that translates into beautiful writing. Grounding the story with details of homes and cookery and gardening that bring it life on the page make the story all the more poignant. This is also a love story of the very best kind. Yes, there is a gentle boy/girl love theme, but love in so many other forms too … even love for wonderfully bracing Mrs Baxter the dreaded maths teacher!
This is a story about understanding and forgiving, yourself as well as others. It is, ultimately, a wonderfully hopeful story that leaves the reader a little different from the person they were when they began reading the book. It is fresh and original, and would bear many re-readings. Highly recommended.
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE