Review & Giveaway: Angel Thieves by Kathi Appelt

Young Adult / Magical Realism / Historical / Contemporary
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Date of Publication: March 12, 2019

Number of Pages: 336

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An ocelot. A slave. An angel thief.

Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.

Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it…

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed…

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.


Spiritual, succinct, and emotionally gripping. 

— School Library JournalA heartfelt love letter to Houston that acknowledges the bad parts of its history while uplifting the good. — BCBB

Shows the best and worst sides of humanity and underscores the powerful force of the bayou, which both holds and erases secrets.

— Publishers WeeklyNarrative strands are like tributaries that begin as separate entities but eventually merge into a single thematic connection: that love, whether lost or found, is always powerful. — Horn Book

Richly drawn and important. — Booklist, starred review



It was a little eerie reading Angel Thieves amid all the rain and flooding here in Houston. While I normally think of my city’s flooding as a byproduct of excessive precipitation mixed with overdevelopment and trash, Appelt’s novel clued me in to the fact that this area has a history of floods and how the path of the Buffalo Bayou has relocated many times because of them.

But more on that in a bit; let’s talk art for second. The book jacket has that distinct YA look and is very appealing with its shiny, black background and light blue mixed with white in the text and imagery. The angel statue has line drawings within it of a manacled wrist, an ocelot, and a slave woman with a headwrap. I really dig the font used, graffiti-like with black paint splattered on it. When you take the jacket off, there’s a beautiful surprise of a bright white background with a blue ocelot filling most of the front cover and spine. Within its image, you see the same line drawings from the jacket – it looks like an expansion because now we can see both manacled wrists, the full image of the ocelot and slave woman, in addition to a treble clef staff, a chapel, a slave girl picking cotton, and the words “Reward” and “Wanted” – all important parts of this story.

Appelt’s writing style can be compared to flood water – it flows quickly and sucks you in before you realize just how strong and deep it is. The chapter lengths vary depending on whose perspective we are reading from. Thankfully there are cues to location and time period at the top of each chapter. Ever wondered what it was like to be an ocelot or a body of water? After reading this book, I sort of feel like I kind of do. I must confess, it took me a little while to get my bearings because each new chapter was a revolution of the revolving door that brought out a different character. I really liked the distinction between each character and their unique names.

I am always amazed when I read books that weave so many different stories together into one beautiful literary tapestry. Appelt accomplishes this effortlessly and I was truly invested in each story line. I am impressed with the amount of research that went into writing this book, and how she took random ideas and turned them into a captivating story. As seamlessly as the author tied up the loose ends, I still wished to know more about the details of Achsah’s journey and whether Cade ultimately found what he was looking for. Ok, maybe I don’t want to read more from the perspective of the bayou, but I could read more about the ocelot.

I really don’t have many notes on this book because I thought everything was executed so well. I did have one question though: twice in the book, “I’m here for you” is crossed out and “There’s love enough” is written in its place. Will this be done in every printed copy of this book or did I just get an early version that didn’t have the correction in it? I ask because, while I like the line better, its first use in the book doesn’t set up the following chapter the same way that “I’m here for you” does. The revision disrupts the flow of the story a bit in my opinion.

This book is joining the modest sized YA section of my bookshelf. I plan to reread it on rainy days and can’t wait for my son to grow up and read it as well.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max … Attacks

She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and their six cats. She serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.
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1 Comment

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One response to “Review & Giveaway: Angel Thieves by Kathi Appelt

  1. FABULOUS review! It’s an amazing book — and the author explains that sentence that’s marked out on her blog! I wondered the same thing!

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