Coffee at Little Angels by Nadine Rose Larter
Earlier in the month I was asked to review the book, Coffee at Little Angels, by Nadine Rose Larter. While both the cover and the title make it seem like a children’s book (and kind of turned me off to taking it seriously, at least at first) I agreed to do this. I took a lot of notes throughout my read – which honestly, I never do, I review straight from the heart, but I wanted to get this right.
And I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. I sat down saying to myself, “this will be a breeze, Cass…” and then, I just couldn’t get past my distaste for the characters and the lack of setting (especially the insert of Aids in only three pages to give you a sense of the surrounding areas in South Africa). I think the best way to talk about this book is to say that this isn’t a book that I would normally read, nor is it a book that I can necessarily say I liked or disliked. I felt neither good nor bad after finishing it, I honestly felt quite indifferent. However, throughout, the raw emotion in a few of the characters did pack a punch and I felt their tender moments.
What I mean to say is, I don’t really want to come out swingin’ and say that this wasn’t my favorite book personally, but I almost have no choice. This book was a soap opera of high school friends thrown together at a funeral. While I love that concept, of people gathering for something (the idea of a bunch of people being in a room together who share a past, but not a present can be quite thrilling, like Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion or Bel Canto) but for some reason the characters didn’t thrill me.
I really liked Phillip, but unfortunately he was dead after the first sentence, “I went jogging on the morning that I died.” However, the way he was portrayed post-death and in Sarah’s hysterical visions of him, he came off as a round and vibrant character. Someone y0u’d want to know and have in your own life, although it seems these characters didn’t much appreciate him while he was alive. I also liked Maxine, and Sarah, because I think we got a glimpse of their entire lives. However, the other characters mostly fell into high school cliche’s for me. Melanie is the annoying, dramatic one who is constantly on the defensive, and always lending gossip in the ears of those who will listen. I’m sure I was supposed to loathe her, but she didn’t have even one likable quality. I find it hard to even connect with a character who doesn’t have both light and dark qualities. Even Voldemort has qualities that I find attractive (sigh, Team Voldemort).
The other characters, Sarah and Maxine especially were more involved, had lives that mattered to me and somehow were connected to one another in mostly sick love triangles. Melanie, I feel like was thrown in at the end to cause some dramatic tension that was already there because of the hometown tension, and tension of losing someone you love(d).
I also had a huge problem with setting. Larter is from South Africa and so I assumed it was set there, but only small glimpses of the community really gave me any recognition of this. Race tension, AIDS pandemics, riots, and headmasters in the local high school really gave it away, but they were only given a few brief mentions. If all of these characters grow up in a town where Aids is killing people they know personally, and a town where it’s desperately wrong to marry a black woman, then that should have been more prominent than their petty disagreements. If I read a book set somewhere that I’ve never had the opportunity to visit – I want it to be vivid enough that I know what I’m getting into and not half-imagining the US the whole time.
This is not to say that this book didn’t have any redeeming qualities. Larter is wonderful with giving you poignant heartbreaking vignettes into these character’s inner feelings. She describes the small town they grow up in as “a place God would go to die,” which only fully illuminates the kind of place we’re dealing with here. Although, that description went on for a few pages, that one line stuck out to really explain to me where I am. She also must be really connected to Sarah’s character because there were times when I was so connected to Sarah that I swore the person I loved (and hadn’t even realized it) was now dead, and I was alone with his apparition that I have created in my head. Also, Maxine’s emotions over Josh were incredibly accurate to how I would feel in her situation. However, her past was a bit rushed for me to get the full effect it had on her personality.
Some things I worry about are loose ends that are never tied up. We find out who Rebecca’s father is (I won’t spoil it) but no one ever says whether Rebecca is told. Do Maxine and Josh get back together or are we supposed to take the ending as a group of friends who have finally reached a point where they can be in a room together without wanting to strangle each other (and are unworried about their personal situations together)? What did the orphanage look like where Rosie and the twins were staying? Why are there so few conversations between these people? Awkwardness can only take someone so far until they just bust.
I think this book would almost do better if marketed as a young adult novel, even though these people are thirty-or-so, they are constantly reverting back to their teenage years.
I enjoyed the pace of the book. I really loved majority of the female characters, even if they weren’t the archetypal strong woman. And I really loved the small anecdotes (Small Sarah and her rag doll, the use of the dog at Phil’s death, the description of the funeral after they leave the church). Larter is a professional with details that make you want to hear more, “tell me more…tell me more.” However, the plot is lacking.
Here is my favorite quote:
- “Sarah’s love for me is a lot closer to simply giving in instead of the necessary love act of letting go.” (16)
And here are a few other reviews, just in case you don’t like mine:
And here are my notes, just in case you want to see how neurotic I am: