The Unfinished Angel
by Sharon Creech
The angel who narrates Sharon Creech’s latest novel may sound an awful lot like your youngster as he or she is beginning to figure out how language works, and to add new vocabulary to his or her repertoire—whether of a native language or a second language. Angel has spent hundreds of years in the Casa Rosa tower in Ticino, a town nestled in the Swiss Alps, speaking mostly Italian and is now attempting to speak English. Angel's attempts at English words have a charming logic to them. For instance, Angel describes Mr. Pomodoro, an American who just moved into Angel’s beloved Casa Rosa, as “tall and linky,” and his daughter, Zola, as “skinny like a twig-tree, with hair chip-chopped in a startling way.” Zola wears layers of skirts and bright colors and “rainbows of ribbons on her wrists and ankles and neckle.” By way of explanation, Angel tells Zola, “I am not a boy or a girl. I am angel.” And for its kind, Angel has a great deal of humility. The novel’s title comes from the otherworldly protagonist’s sense that it doesn’t quite know what it’s doing: “Am I the only confused one? Maybe I am unfinished, an unfinished angel.” Angel “flishes” the citizens of Ticino by planting images in their sleeping heads, often to help them think better of someone or to give them peace of mind. When Zola tells Angel about a group of homeless orphans who’ve taken refuge in an abandoned shed, Angel flishes the townsfolk and it backfires, leading to a comedy of errors and also to greater understanding. For Angel serves as the town’s kindly brain trust. The hero knows that as Signora Mondopoco grows older, she also grows more childlike (oh how she loves poppets, “little dollies”), and that Signora Divino has not been the same since her grown boy moved to America and left his son in her care (“She seems hard on the outside, but inside is soft and fragile like an egg”). But what your young readers may appreciate most is that a girl from America teaches a Swiss angel a thing or two. “Sometimes a people needs an angel and sometimes an angel needs a people,” as Angel puts it. Through her characters’ struggle with language, Creech demonstrates the importance of being understood, of making oneself seen and heard—a feeling all children share.
Here, Sharon Creech and her editor, Joanna Cotler, talk about the creative process behind The Unfinished Angel: