Friday, March 21, 2008

Are You Listening, God? It's me, Kiriel.

Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins
5Q 3P J*/S (Technically, VOYA's J is grades 7-9. I think this one will be more popular with high school students.)

Kiriel is a fallen angel who has decided to take a vacation from his job (reflecting regret and guilt). Just as Shaun is about to be hit by a car, Kiriel steps into his body. Shaun's soul leaves, but his body lives on, with Kiriel animating it. Kiriel wants to experience what living is all about, and for those who like this kind of thing, it's quite fascinating to watch him get so caught up in and thrilled by the tiny details of life that we don't even notice (wind on your face, what it feels like to touch and smell even the most mundane things, like a dirty t-shirt). Ultimately, he decides there are three things he wants to accomplish: help Jason, Shaun's younger brother, to find at least a little happiness (Jason is a very angry and unhappy boy); convince at least one human being to stop the kind of behavior that will find him in Hell later as one of Kiriel's charges; and to have sex. How he goes about these things and what he learns about himself is the plot of this deceptively quick read. But it is also takes on what our role is in the world and whether God knows and cares that we exist. Yes, even fallen angels wonder about these things. I guess that gives us something in common.

I said I wasn't going to quote, but I am, briefly, because these few quotes really hit me:

This is one I should be taking to heart right now.

There was a white scar on his forehead that he'd received from falling off a swing when he was a child. I'd never heard him say why he chose to wear his hair on his face, but I wondered if he was trying to hide the scar. I rather liked it. How wonderful, to bear evidence of an event that must have been packed with emotion! How satisfying, to always have a physical token of something you'd experienced.

If you don't like passages like this, this might not be the book for you:

After I finished the shower, I filled the tub and took a bath. I filled it as high as it would go. I liked this water; I liked the feeling of it. It was warm and floaty. I slapped the surface to make little waves that disappeared quickly, and then I slid Shaun's whole body back and forth to make big waves that slopped over the side of the tub. When the water got cold, I filled the tub again, with even hotter water that turned Shaun's skin red. I watched his fingers and toes prune up. I lay back so his ears were under the surface, and I listened to his skin squeak as I rubbed his legs and bottom along the porcelain. Then I knocked on the side of the tub and listened to the echoing clunk. Cool.

It's always good to be reminded that everyone, whether its ourselves or someone else, matters and is somehow connected to someone else. I also like this because of what it means to Kiriel.

I had assumed that a human was bound by its activities and habits, its way of acting and speaking. But now it seemed that there were other threads that wound around someone like Shaun, connecting him to other beings - threads of affection and trust. Shaun was gone, but his place hadn't been quite empty. No matter how I tried to act as he would have, the threads he'd been associated with would always hold his shape. Well. It looked as though I had just learned something.

Even fallen angels have their doubts.

Shaun was lucky. He, at least, would be missed. Shaun Simmons had made a specific mark on the world, simply by being. A discontent rose in me. I thought, This must be Envy. It didn't feel particularly good or particularly bad. The only thing about it that seemed even slightly sinful was the way it clung and gnawed, as if it could easily take on a life of its own. Shaun's pillow cradled my head. I'd stolen a boy's body and the Creator didn't even care! If mankind was of such great import in the overall scheme of things, shouldn't He Himself have shown up to take care of that? But he hadn't. He hadn't even sent anybody. It was as if nobody was running the universe...Maybe the reason that no one cares about my absence, I thought, is that I don't have to be there..."

Passages like the last one make me think this would be a great book discussion group choice. This is a 2008 Printz Honor Book, and I like the choice.

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