This article is by Elaine White. All opinions are her own.
I read this novel, by J. Dylan Yates, in October of last year and loved it! It was a 5 star read for me and I thought you'd all appreciate a look at the novel.
Jules Finn and Samuel Trautman know that sorrow can sink deeply—so deeply it can drown the spirit. In The Belief in Angels, by J. Dylan Yates, these two wounded souls—one struggling to survive her childhood with her sanity intact, the other haunted by memories from his past—must decide: surrender to the grief that threatens to destroy them, or find the strength to swim for the surface.
Growing up in a volatile hippie household on a tiny island off the coast of Boston, Jules’s imaginative sense of humor is the weapon she wields as a defense against the chaos of her family’s household. But somewhere between gun-waving gambling debt collectors and LSD-laced breakfast cereal adventures, her younger brother Moses dies—and it’s a blow from which Jules may never fully recover.
Jules’s grandfather, Samuel, wants to help his grandchildren, but he’s wrapped up in a sad story of his own. Once called Szaja, Samuel is an orthodox Jew who lived through the murderous Ukranian pogroms of the 1920s, as well as the Majdanek Death Camp—but his survival came at an unspeakable price.
In their darkest moments, Jules and Samuel receive what could only be explained as divine intervention—serendipitous experiences that give them each the hope they so desperately need. Ultimately, however, they both must look inside themselves for the courage to come to the rescue of their own fractured lives.
Vividly drawn and breathtakingly insightful, The Belief in Angels is a beautiful, heartbreaking exploration of human nature at its worst—and its best.
(Excerpt from Chapter One)
Jules Finn, 18 years | August, 1979
Sometimes in order to tell a story well, so it’s truly understood, you have to tell it out of order. My story tells like this. It unravels . . . and ravels up again.
My name is Julianne, but everybody calls me Jules. I was named after my Great-Uncle Jules on my father’s side. That’s what my father, Howard, told me. My mother, Wendy, told me I’m named after a dead racehorse trainer.
It’s hard to know what to believe.
For now, I live here in Withensea, a seacoast town north of Cape Cod, an island that thrives on summer tourism. In two weeks I will leave for college and never come back.
Many people I went to school with will stay, however. A kind of Withensea tradition. They’ll move down the road with their high school sweethearts, who’ll become their spouses, and settle close to the homes they were raised in.
Sometimes a place can be as much a part of you as the people you grew up with. I won’t miss most of the people here, but I’ll miss this place. The ocean, for me, holds the power to turn a moment mystical. Accompanying my memories of childhood there are always ocean sounds—sometimes faint, sometimes louder, the waves crashing and beating their own score. When I picture the breathtaking beauty of our cliff, the ocean, it almost masks the memories of the things that were not picturesque. I’ve spent eighteen years soaking up every beautiful part of Withensea, hoping to crowd out the memories of the painful parts of my life—of guns, of violence, and of loss. A kind of glass-housed chaos, tolerated by the community in order to feed the starving brains bred in small towns.
My life, so far, has also been an existence filled with secrets. Two kinds of secrets. First: the kind that need lies to keep them hidden. Second: the kind our brains create to cope with sorrow.
Still, perspective offers me solace enough to not measure my own sorrow against another. What I understand now about survival is that something in you dies. You don’t become a survivor intact. Survival’s cost is always loss. This is my mourning book.
What follows is a collection of memories I’ve saved. I’ve learned memories are lost more often than objects. I will keep whole parts intact in my telling, where I feel it’s important. In a way, I think it will keep me intact to tell the truth of it this way. It’s my evidence—a way of documenting to keep the truth in my sight line.
There are parts of my life I’ve been absent from. These I will tell from where I am now along the bend of truth. I will call these parts belief.
It’s all left me with this weird love for the moments after something good happens. I call it delayed joy. I hear an achingly beautiful song, and when it’s over I enjoy the immediate moment, the quiet, more than I did the sounds of the song playing. I taste a buttery lick of Butter Crunch ice cream, and after the flavor is gone I savor the loss of the deliciousness in my mouth.