Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Heaven Sent

Something, a blog interview, a comment on Twitter or a review, a reason I can rarely remember, will cause me to seek out a title by a debut author.  Whatever the reason I have never been more happy or sad than when I read the final pages of Martha Brockenbrough's Devine Intervention (Arthur A. Levine Books, June 1, 2012).  For the witty, brilliant writing style, the storyline offering a unique and rich view of life and death and characters so real they could be your next door neighbors, I am so glad I read, no devoured, this book.  The sadness comes, as it does with all remarkable books, because the story has ended.

The thing about Devine Intervention is I can not stop thinking about it; the story and the people within the story are memorable.  The first two pages are from The Guardian Angel's Handbook:  Soul Rehab Edition; the first a basic introduction for those unlucky (or perhaps very lucky) enough to warrant a copy of said handbook and the second page containing the first of The Ten Commandments for the Dead---


These two pages are followed by the first sentence in Chapter One:

One Monday morning, a couple years before my cousin Mike shot me in the forehead with an arrow, my eighth-grade homeroom teacher brought two cartons of raw eggs to school.

Readers are first introduced to Jerome, killed instantly by his best friend, when another of their haywire schemes backfires with deadly consequences.  Jerome has landed in Soul Rehab, due to his misdeeds when alive, with a chance to avoid one of the nine layers of Hell and move to Heaven by taking care of a infant soul.  His que sera, sera attitude coupled with hiding the handbook prior to reading it have not been in Heidi's best interests in the sixteen years he has been her guardian angel.

All her life, for as long as she can remember, Heidi has had a "voice" in her head, Jerome.  When younger this "voice" was dismissed as an imaginary friend.  Now she keeps silent about his commentary believing herself to be suffering some form of hallucinations.

Navigating the choppy waters of high school is never easy but for Heidi, taller than most, it has been particularly trying.  Pressured to join the basketball team due to her size and participate in Talentpalooza!! to make her friend, Megan, happy, Heidi has a day better left forgotten; not making the winning point before the buzzer sounds and having her knowledge confirmed her costume was indeed too tight.  To pursue her passion, her gift, as an artist drawing architectural panoramas, is what she wants to do most.

To clear her head the next day Heidi and Jiminy, her longtime canine companion, take a stroll to the pond.  The pond always brings her a sort of peace not found in her everyday life.  Jiminy romps right out to the middle of the frozen expanse.  Heidi walks out too, calling him back; changing everything.

Continuing with the voices of Jerome and Heidi told in alternating chapters, Brockenbrough takes readers into the workings of her version of the heavenly hosts, group therapy, angelic counselors, Gabe and Xavier, doorways to Heaven in the mall, shooping from place to place, heavenly electric zaps in your head for swearing, as the two teens try to figure out what has happened, what to do. Complicating a desperate situation even more is the discovery of a twenty-four hour time limit and the unsavory plan of a less than stellar inhabitant in Soul Rehab.  Never is the importance of life with all its varying nuances so clear as when we are faced with the thought, the knowledge, of loosing what we know to be true; of loosing who and what we love.

Nearly all the chapters begin with pages from The Guardian Angel Handbook: Soul Rehab Edition.  These pages are Brockenbrough's technique for offering insight, as a prelude of events or conversations to come.  As a wordsmith with a distinctive voice Martha Brockenbrough can bring a reader into the moment with intention and intensity.  Her revelations done in detailed descriptions of our world, our lives, the value of the simple and the importance of our place are marvelous.

To be sure there is much humor in this title but also a depth of emotion pulling on the strings in the center of your heart.  As the storyline unfolds each of the characters exhibit strengths and flaws so much like all of us it's impossible not to identify with them.  With an ending deftly weaving all possibilities together it surprises.

Here are a few examples of Martha Brockenbrough's writing taken from this title.

Tell her you want to wear your conductor overalls.
"I want to wear my conductor overalls."
"Those again?" Her mother wiped the countertops.
Say "damn straight."
"Damn straight."
"Heidi, I don't know where you learned that language, but it's not okay."
Holy smokes, that hurt.  But it was worth it.
"What are holy smokes?" Heidi asked.
Her mother marched over and clicked off the TV.  "Enough of this," she said. "It's time to get you dressed."

"I'm going to revise my earlier statement," Megan said, turning Heidi away from her audience.  "The bright side is that winter vacation starts tomorrow morning.  By the time we get back to school, no one's going to remember this.  And on the other bright side, it just proves the point I was making earlier about high school and Hell.  Welcome to the nightmare."

She willed herself to press the ball toward the basket, bringing it closer to her face so she could give it everything she had.  Then came the buzzer.  She'd frozen, failed, wasted her chance.  The crowd groaned; the air rushed from the room.  Heidi looked up at the lights, bright stars surrounded by cages.  They swam with watery rainbows.

Martha Brockenbrough's title, Devine Intervention, is a slice of life...and death filled with unforeseen twists and turns, laughter, tears and truths not to be ignored.  It will send your soul soaring exactly where it needs to go. This is one of my favorite young adult reads of 2012.

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