“In my family, it was as if you had to be dead to get noticed,” says 16-year-old Hailey, the protagonist of Chris Tusa’s Dirty Little Angels. Early in the novel, Hailey tells us that her mother has pictures of Jesus and an ultrasound of her miscarried youngest child on her dresser, but no pictures of her living family members.
Hailey quickly brings us into her New Orleans, one that’s rarely seen by tourists—rough, poor and violent. Caught up in her mother’s lack of attention, her father’s failings, her brother Cyrus’s dangerous tendencies, and the casual viciousness of her best friend, Meridian, Hailey is drowning. She longs for relief but never genuinely looks for an escape.
She’s too busy pondering the faith of those around her and whether God exists. She’s too caught up in Cyrus’s violence and Meridian’s explorations of sex and manipulation to dream of a different life for herself. But as Cyrus and Hailey start spending more time with Moses, an ex-con who wants to start a drive-through church—but admits his sermons are stolen—they both quickly find themselves in over their heads.
Hailey is a consummate observer—even her participation in the events around her is passive—who tumbles through relationships and situations that are increasingly uncontrollable and threatening. She has no agency until she takes it for herself in a stunning, yet inevitable conclusion. “I thought about how I’d spent my life waiting for God to save me and my family. Maybe I’d been wrong all along, I thought. Maybe God didn’t save us after all. Maybe we had to save ourselves, and each other, first.”
Tusa presents us with a cast of compelling characters and a landscape that will fascinate even those familiar with New Orleans. While this is his first novel, he also has a book of poetry, Haunted Bones, and is published in multiple literary journals. Originally from New Orleans, Tusa now serves as an instructor in the LSU English Department. christophertusa.com