Poppy's angel by Rachel Billington
Frances Lincoln Children's, 2013. ISBN 9781847803627
Poppy's Angel is the sequel to Poppy's hero and Poppy's life has once again suffered a major disruption. She is, as her friend Jude says... almost an orphan, and with her dad still in prison and her mum now in Poland, Poppy does feel more than a little alone. She is staying with Jude until her mother returns and their relationship has never been easy.
Poppy's other friends are also proving to be less than ideal companions, especially Angel who turns up in her now deserted home, bleeding all over the floor and refusing to go to the hospital. Will remains loyal and steadfast but between his illness and his mother it is sometimes impossible to get hold of him.
Divided into 2 parts, Part One focuses on Angel. He too is feeling very lost and alone, with his father again missing, having taken Angel's mobile and anything else that he thought might provide 'ready' cash, and his mother in hospital awaiting the birth of her fourth child.
Billington pulls no punches in allowing the reader glimpses into less than perfect lives. Angel has been taught to trust no-one, rely on no-one; Snake, a gang leader, beats up little kids because he gets beaten up at home; Eloise, Angel's aunt and now primary caregiver, refuses to allow him to live at home, loses his four year old sister and is hinted at being too free with her hands. Each person seems to be trapped by his or her circumstances with no help in sight as the police, or indeed anyone in authority, are the last people anyone in Angel's world would contact.
Big Frank, Poppy's father is the focus of the second part of the book. He is now in an open prison but seems once again determined to ruin his chances of rejoining his family, at least on weekends, by once again becoming involved in criminal activity. He knows it will mean returning to prison, but will Frank says, make them ... Rich. Rich. Rich. RICH! Refusing to acknowledge the danger, he is, he tells Poppy, doing it all for her; something that she doesn't want to hear.
However, despite the ever present undercurrent of violence and danger, Poppy remains secure and largely unaffected by the events occurring around her. She is safe for the moment, inhabiting the wealthy world of Jude and Will. Billington also offers hope, at least to the reader, with the introduction of Gus, an old man who teaches 'bad boys' football and offers them a routine and common sense advice and help. Maggie too, with six sons and ten grandsons, is also a stable presence who knows everyone and everything that is happening on Angel's estate and can occasionally provide advice and assistance.
Billington offers late primary, early secondary readers a glimpse into a world where safety and security are not givens. The book ends happily: Angel's mother is home and he has a new brother while Poppy's mother has returned from Poland and Big Frank maintains loudly that he is a reformed sinner. Maggie and Gus also remain, each exerting a benign yet reassuring presence. Yet, the reader is left wondering, at least in Big Frank's case, whether problems can really be resolved so easily.