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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 215

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The “Angels” of the house are part of the De La Cruz family, half-brothers known as Big and Little Angel respectively. The complex relationships that hold families together and tear them apart is one primary theme of this large-scale saga. The divisions, in this family’s case, include not simply the two different mothers the men have but the fact that one brother is from the United States and the other from Mexico. Thus, in a book set in San Diego and Tijuana, another important theme is the effect of borders and human efforts to sustain or transcend them. Because most of the family prides themselves on their distinctive Mexicanness and see Little Angel as being too Americanized, the novel also explores fundamental issues of identity—especially in national, ethnic, racial, and gender terms.

Another important, paradoxical theme is the joy one can find in sorrow, for the novel begins at the point of one protagonist’s death and uses it as a jumping-off point for others’ memories and stories. Using the device of a big birthday party to open the story, the author quickly veers into tragic territory, as two main characters—son and mother—die in quick succession. These events re-align the other family members’ relationships and force them to confront long-buried emotions.