Angel & Hannah: A Novel in Verse

One World. May 2021. 192p. ISBN 9780593134320. pap. $18. POETRY
In Park’s spin on Romeo and Juliet, two star-crossed teenagers lock eyes at a quinceañera in a church basement in early-’90s Jamaica, NY. Hannah, from Queens, is a studious child of Korean immigrants who tries to protect her mother from her abusive father. Angel, from Brooklyn, is of Puerto Rican descent, dreams of flying planes, and deals drugs, partly to support his siblings and sick mother. Hannah and Angel’s relationship is complicated by resistance from family; friends’ skepticism (“Yo, she’s gonna leave you, son, / Ariel slurs”; “Ay, he’s a street rat, Wanda says”); the AIDS epidemic; betrayals; and each character’s familial struggles. Yet the intensity of their connection prevails (“Why are they in love, you ask? Why does / water love sky?”). One of the book’s great delights is its mix of language and form. Park intertwines 1990s slang, rhyming couplets, Spanish, and Korean, and nods to Shakespearean language. The result is a vivid, complex portrait of neighborhoods, cultures, and first love, told over the course of four seasons.
VERDICT Though Hannah and Angel’s story is not pure tragedy, their love’s inability to transcend the accumulated weight of history, poverty, and family will wrench readers’ hearts. A moving novel in verse, filled with energy and raw emotion.
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