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Eighteen-year-old Miriam has grown up surrounded by spiritual concerns. Her parents, both theology professors, often engage their children in discussions and debates about religion and God. And with a mother who is a former nun and a father who is a Jewish rabbi, Miriam has a complex understanding of belief, even if she wouldn't necessarily call herself a believer.

That all changes, however, when the archangel Raphael crashes into her dorm room. The terrifying presence speaks a command to her in ancient Hebrew and then disappears. When Miriam, justifiably troubled by the vision, translates his words, she realizes she has a mission to carry out, but she's reluctant…or maybe just skeptical. But when a horrific event proves both the accuracy of Raphael's prophecy and the inadequacies of Miriam's actions, she grows wary. What is God's plan for her? Does He have more expectations for her future actions? And will He punish her for failing to carry them through as He had hoped?

Meanwhile, Miriam --- who is so shaken by her encounter with the angel that she drops out of school and takes a job at a small newspaper in rural Tennessee --- learns that her twin brother Moses also has had his own encounter with spiritual forces. In Mo's case, however, the power is not godly but demonic, and Mo has been chosen to carry out the devil's own work on earth. Is it possible that these twin siblings, formerly so close to one another, are now just pawns in some kind of cosmic spiritual war?

To say that KINDRED is an unusual YA book would be a huge understatement. Angels in young adult literature are not particularly new, but the terrifying, vaguely vindictive angels of Tammar Stein's novel certainly are. These are the kinds of angels with whom the biblical Jacob wrestled, and Miriam wrestles, too, as she continually struggles with questions of faith and doubt, and the search for God's plan for her life.

These are heady concerns, of course, but another of the book's unusual aspects is that these spiritual and theological concerns are grounded in the earthiest way possible. Miriam befriends local farmers through her work at the newspaper, she starts dating the small town's only tattoo artist, and, most vividly (possibly disturbingly, to some readers), she grapples with some very distressing, deeply humbling physical ailments of her own. The detailed descriptions of Miriam's digestive problems might be enough to turn off some readers, but as Miriam (who views this bodily degradation, at times, as the angels' revenge) herself notes, "This is the worst part, the ugliest part, of a human body to break down. The contrast between my writhing, sweaty form and the perfect and cold celestial beauty of the angels couldn't be greater or clearer. I am nothing but mud."

Miriam's humility and disappointment --- sometimes bordering on self-hatred --- as she fails to follow through on the angels' commands may lead some to wonder whether the angels themselves (not to mention Mo's demons) are real or merely products of Miriam's troubled mind. Are they actual characters, or metaphors for spiritual struggles and truths? KINDRED is probably not a novel for everyone, but it will speak to readers who like their fiction to raise provocative questions rather than provide easy answers, who wouldn't mind doing a little wrestling of their own with angels.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 8, 2011

by Tammar Stein

  • Publication Date: February 14, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ember
  • ISBN-10: 0375853499
  • ISBN-13: 9780375853494