OK, even though I am totally immersed in Young Adult Fiction, this was my first angel book. I tend to stay away from all the "creature" type books. But this one got such great reviews because of the story, and they were right. It is a great book. Wonderful characters, great story.
One of the reasons I shy away from angel books in particular is my philosophical differences with the premise. But in this case, there were so many good aspects that I was able to suspend my personal beliefs. I absolutely loved the idea that Clara and others had a purpose, and that their particular purpose was relatively undefined. The way each Clara's purpose was revealed made for the best kind of plot - layer by layer, mystery, suspense, surprise. The best stories will do all these things while making you love the characters. This particular story does it exceptionally well.
The characters were distinct from the outset. Clara is extremely likable, as is her brother Jeffrey. Christian is a favorite for me, but not because he's so perfect. It's because he's deep; there is much more to this boy than what we see on the outside, and the way this is slowly revealed is just fabulous. I liked Tucker, but he wasn't my favorite. I think this is where Cynthia Hand is so expert: I didn't fall in love with Tucker immediately. In fact, I'm not sure I ever did. This slow buildup of the relationship is a welcome departure from all the insta-love novels that are out there now.
The other characters are not typical at all, but rather exhibit depth that is unexpected. As the plot gets more complex, so do the players, which makes for such a great read. It was extremely well-paced. And the ending was a great lead-in for the sequel without being one of those angst-ridden cliffhangers. In fact, the lack of angst in this story was probably the best thing about it.
My only problems with this story are as I said above - philosophical and actually very minor. And here's where I'm going to make a lot of people mad, so let me preface it by saying that this story is fiction and as such can take whatever liberties it likes. I thoroughly enjoyed it despite my faith-based differences in doctrine.
Having said that, here's what I think: this story basically ignored God. They danced around Him a bit, but all things considered, they left Him out. They talked a lot about goodness and lofty ideals, but they essentially ignored God. While I loved all the history surrounding angels, I think the most important thing was a big miss: Angels serve God and are His messengers and soldiers. And then there's the issue of "glory." In the Bible, Moses came down off the mountain where he got the 10 commandments, and his face shone with a reflection of God's presence. He actually had to wear a veil so as to not blind the Israelites. What this book calls "glory" is actually a reflection of God's personage, not some inherent thing occurring in an angel (or part-angel). So again, skirting the issue of the Almighty kind of bugs me.
Regardless, this is a great story about teenagers that should not be missed. Each person is unique in abilities, talents, skills, intelligence. This story illustrates that beautifully against a fascinating backdrop.