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An Angel for Mariqua, by Zetta Elliott

At the jail where I volunteer, there’s a small bookshelf next to the front desk that says “free books/libros gratis.” It has a varying mix of picture books through middle-grade books, and I try to drop off books there periodically.

So I was really excited to learn about An Angel for Mariqua, a middle-grade book by Zetta Elliott about a girl whose mother is in jail. Mariqua lives with her grandmother now, and she’s angry at everyone and everything, and also lonely. Then two good things happen. An old man selling carved Christmas figurines at a roadside stall gives her a beautiful wooden angel, and Valina, a high school student, takes an interest in Mariqua. Two sorts of angels.

Here’s the scene with the old man:

Even though it had been raining for most of the afternoon, the man wore no raincoat. Instead he wore a woolen poncho that had tassels along the edge. Bands of blue, red, yellow, and green ran across the man’s shoulders and met in a V near his waist. Even though it was cold and rainy outside, the stranger looked warm and dry. Mariqua thought he looked like he was wrapped up in a rainbow . . .

Suddenly one of the man’s hands appeared from underneath his rainbow shawl. His fingers were the color of caramel. He picked up one of the small wooden angels and handed it to Mariqua.

“For you.”

Mariqua held the angel in her hands. A long blue dress with golden stars had been painted on the angel’s wooden body. Two wings curled away from her narrow waist like petals on a flower. They, too, had been painted gold. The angel had thick black hair and deep brown skin. She had a tiny pink smile on her face.

Mariqua doesn’t have the money for it, but the old man insists she take it.

Mariqua’s first encounter with Valina involves Valina yanking her back onto the curb when she attempts to dash across the street. Valina’s quick move saves her from being hit by a bus—and then Valina calls her on her bullshit, as the saying goes, when Mariqua is rude in response:

“I just saved your life and you can’t even say ‘thank you’? Well, forget you, then. Your scrawny little behind can get hit by a bus, for all I care. And here--”

She thrust the wooden angel into Mariqua’s chest. “Take your stupid hunk of wood. Bad as you are, you need a guardian angel looking out for you.”

But then the next day at Sunday School, Valina encourages the teacher to let Mariqua be the angel in the nativity play, even promising to help Mariqua learn her lines.

The story follows their growing friendship, deepening as Mariqua gradually realizes the situation of Valina’s mother. By the end, Mariqua is able to offer Valina love and support when Valina needs it most. It’s a beautiful scene. And Mariqua sees her own mother in a new light, too.

I encourage anyone who’s interested in the issues of parents in prison, families disrupted by incarceration or in books by authors of color or indie books to give it a try. It’s a lovely book. I can’t wait to leave it at the jail, where hopefully someone like Mariqua can pick it up. But I may have to get myself another copy to keep. It’s a good book.

An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 10th, 2016 07:08 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a beautiful book. I'm going to get a copy.
Oct. 11th, 2016 04:31 pm (UTC)
Oh good! And after you read it, if you know anyone who would enjoy it, you can pass it on to them, or maybe donate it to a local school or something.
Oct. 10th, 2016 07:15 pm (UTC)

Thank you.
Oct. 11th, 2016 04:31 pm (UTC)
my pleasure!
Oct. 10th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC)
What a lovely book!
Oct. 11th, 2016 04:32 pm (UTC)
I found it really touching.
Oct. 10th, 2016 07:43 pm (UTC)
Ooooh, that sounds delightful.
Oct. 11th, 2016 04:32 pm (UTC)
It covers a *lot* in its short length, and without the various elements feeling crammed in.
Oct. 10th, 2016 11:30 pm (UTC)
This sounds lovely. I'll be interested to hear what any of your students have to say about it.
Oct. 11th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC)
It's not my students I'll be giving it to; I'll be leaving it for visitor-children to take. I did happen to have it with me last week, but the student who looked at it didn't have much of an opinion. I think it's kind of tricky emotionally. As parents, a lot of my students feel a whole lot of guilt.
Oct. 11th, 2016 12:42 am (UTC)
Just this excerpt made my eyes well up.
Oct. 11th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC)
Oh it's definitely that sort of book. Just thinking of certain scenes does the same to me.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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