Author: J. Dylan Yates
Publisher: She Writes Press
ISBN: 978-1-938314-64-3

It is quite remarkable that children can survive self-centered, abusive, neglectful parents to grow, if not blossom, into self determination and adulthood. As I have remarked in previous reviews, couples, married or not, should be obliged to enroll in a how-to-nurture-children-properly course before contemplating parenthood. There’s no question that Julianne’s (Jules), the main character of J.Dylan Yates, debut novel, The Belief In Angels, parents would not pass any course other than a go-straight-to-jail entrance exam for the brutal treatment of their children.

Despite the grimness of the narrative this is a story where good does eventually find a way to triumph over adversity (evil) and for a first time novelist, J. Dylan Yates, has excellent descriptive skills and tells a story that involves the reader from the first page to the last. 

The story begins in Withensea, Massachusetts, in 1979 when Jules Finn is 18 years-of-age and is about to leave her Cape Cod home to go to college.

Jules, in a reflective mood, muses about her childhood with brothers, David and Moses, likening their family life to the salt spray battered houses in need of care and maintenance in the seaside town where they live. This comparison sets the scene well for the recollections that are to come. 

The narration segues back to 1967 and the ongoing marital battles that occur between Jules’ parents, Howard and Wendy, violent, quite possibly crazy weirdos. Howard and Wendy’s raisonne d’etre is to extort money from Samuel, the children’s grandfather, to fund their erratic dissipated lifestyle, care of their children is a low priority.

Jules loves her grandparents and would be very happy if she and her brothers could live with them.  Frightened to tell her grandfather the truth about the treatment they receive at home, a horsewhip is used for punishment, Jules does whatever it takes to survive without incurring the anger of her parents. 

Samuel, a Jewish tailor, does his best to protect his grandchildren from the excesses of their alcoholic nutcase parents but sadly, he has his own demons to exorcise. In the 1920’s while still a young man, he suffered the horror of the Ukranian pogroms – Jews terrorized and murdered by Ukranian units of the Red Army and his later internment in the Majdanek Death Camp where the circumstances of his survival caused trauma which he has never fully recovered from.

Samuel’s story is interleaved with Jule’s recollections of family life – some of it extremely sad and painful to read. 

Jules uses humour as a weapon to survive the hardships of her childhood as she battles along a path that has no turning until she can grasp the prize of self ownership. Tragedy strikes what could be described as a dysfunctional family but more realistically described as a hellish household – Jules youngest brother dies, she is grief stricken and it seems that like her grandfather, Samuel, she will forever be haunted by events from the past. 

This is a story full of raw emotion, sometimes harrowing, it’s also the story of two characters, separated by a generation, who despite seemingly insurmountable odds have the resilience and courage to face whatever obstacles Fate selects to block their chances of attaining peace and happiness.

Author, J. Dylan Yates, doesn’t deal in happy outcomes but she does deal in well developed characters and believable dialogue in an absorbing narrative – The Belief In Angels is a touching inspiring read.  

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