Los Angeles, California. The self-proclaimed City of Angels, land of facades and facelifts where money and movies dominate, but masks and manipulation are de rigueur. This is the setting for Kristi Belcamino’s new novel, her young adult debut. Appropriately titled City of Angels, Belcamino places the action of the novel smack dab in the middle of the tumultuous time between the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots that would eventually bring the city to its knees. Within this moment of cultural zeitgeist Kristi Belcamino dares to tell an extremely personal tale – the maturation of one young lady from damaged girl to self-assured woman.

City of Angels is the story of Nikki Black, a seventeen-year-old girl who flees her past in Chicago to follow a boy to Los Angeles. Upon arriving in the lush playground of the West Coast, she discovers that her boyfriend’s intentions were anything but pure. After a daring escape – in which she is also able to rescue a twelve-year-old girl named Rain – Nikki finds refuge on the fourth floor of The American Hotel.

Nikki and Rain slowly begin to realize that in life, sometimes the family we choose is more important than the family we are born into. Banding together with a rag-tag group of hotel residents, these two broken souls suddenly feel at home. Until an unfortunate argument sends Rain out onto the mean streets of the city, at which point she vanishes. It falls to Nikki to determine if she ran away willingly or has their past interaction with the seedier side of Hollywood caught up with them?

Like the rebellious and anti-establishment music that serves as its soundtrack, the novel pulls no punches in presenting the unvarnished lives of this group of misfits struggling to figure out where they fit in the ever-changing landscape of society. Kristi Belcamio does an admirable job of infusing the page with the spirit of this historical period – a time that while not so distant in our past, has still become fogged by events in the intervening years since.

Kristi Belcamino creatively uses the art of photography as a metaphor for Nikki’s insecurities and distrust. When she is behind the lens, Nikki is able to avoid interaction and examination, but she also realizes this causes a distance in her developing relationships. It is Nikki’s budding romance with band member Taj that provides the much-needed plateau amidst the roller coaster emotions and exploits inherent in the search for Rain.

Given that this is Los Angeles, it is no surprise that Kristi Belcamino interjects a thread about The Church of the Evermore Enlightened – a religious cult bearing more than a passing resemblance to The Church of Scientology, famously noted for its high-powered celebrity membership. Belcamino’s fictional version is unlikely to send new disciples flocking to their next community gathering.

City of Angels features hot-button topics such as HIV, the sexual exploitation of children, and rape juxtaposed with less global – though no less complex – personal struggles like guilt, failure, and ultimately redemption. With her Gabriella Giovanni series, Kristi Belcamino has proven that she can weave topical issues into a story full of heart without losing the momentum of an exciting plot. She does the same here with City of Angels, never losing sight of the fact that the core audience for this particular novel is younger and in many ways, more impressionable. City of Angels will appeal to the young and those of us who were young at some point – yes, that means it is a book for everyone.

From the Booking Desk:

City of Angels will be released next week. Here are pre-order links for the book: City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino. Kristi is currently running an offer for those that pre-order the novel: you can find this information on her Facebook page. If you pre-order before May 9th, she will send you a cool map of locations in the book, a playlist and more. You need only to e-mail her a scan of your receipt.


Disclaimer: A print ARC of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.