Devine Intervention by Martha Brockenbrough
Publisher: Scholastic | 304 pages | June 1, 2012 | Buy it
There is a great legend of the guardian angel who traveled across time and space for the human girl he loved, slaying those who would threaten her with a gleaming sword made of heavenly light.
This is not that story.
Jerome Hancock is Heidi Devine’s guardian angel. Sort of. He’s more of an angel trainee, in heaven’s soul-rehabilitation program for wayward teens. And he’s just about to get kicked out for having too many absences and for violating too many of the Ten Commandments for the Dead.
Heidi, meanwhile, is a high school junior who dreams of being an artist, but has been drafted onto her basketball team because she’s taller than many a grown man. For as long as she can remember, she’s heard a voice in her head – one that sings Lynyrd Skynyrd, offers up bad advice, and yet is company during those hours she feels most alone.
When the unthinkable happens, these two lost souls must figure out where they went wrong and whether they can make things right before Heidi’s time is up and her soul is lost forever.
Martha Brockenbrough’s debut novel is hilarious, heartbreaking, and hopeful, with a sense of humor that’s wicked as hell, and writing that’s just heavenly.
Books about the afterlife have always fascinated me, and Brockenbrough’s novel is no exception to that.
This book is the story of Jerome. You know Jerome. Or at least, you know someone like him. He’s the kid who’s not the smartest, and doesn’t have the most common sense in the world. He’s always getting into trouble and doing things that make you wonder where his brain could possibly be. Like the day he decided it would be a good idea to let his cousin fire an arrow at his head.
That didn’t end well for Jerome. In fact, it killed him. And since he’d never made much of his life in any regard, he was unable to attain the right to go to heaven. But his inactivity in his life also meant he hadn’t done bad enough to go to hell. So Jerome is stuck in the middle, in Purgatory, which, luckily for him, has a rehabilitation program. Serve as guardian angel for a new soul, do a good job for the length of the soul’s life, win a place in heaven!
It would be easy to get heavy-handed with this premise, but Brockenbrough is so tongue and cheek, she avoids that altogether, which I appreciated. Jerome is not the best guardian angel, but he does have a real soft spot for Heidi, the soul he was given to care for.
Which is why he panics a bit when, in a moment of distraction, he allows her to fall through a hole in an icy pond. And then his desperate attempts to save her actually pull her soul from her body, essentially killing her.
Things look pretty grim for Jerome and Heidi alike, and you get to the point in the story where you expect every chapter to be Jerome’s last, because if there’s anything that qualifies you for failure as a guardian angel, it’s probably killing the soul you were responsible for. And then losing track of her instead of seeing her safely escorted to heaven.
If Jerome had his copy of The Guardian Angel’s Handbook, he’d be in better shape, but he lost his, and he never read it in the first place. Luckily for us, we get a snippet of it before every chapter, so we can see how Jerome is literally breaking EVERY commandment of the dead. Yeah, you really don’t have high hopes for this guy.
But here’s what I love — despite everything he’s doing wrong, nobody steps in to take Jerome away, and you get to the point where you start wondering why. And so, slowly, you realize, it’s because he is trying so very hard. He has the best of intentions, and that does count for something. What I love about this envisioning is that it is based on the very premise that we never stagnate. Not even in the afterlife. There is still room for improvement, still ways that we can learn and grow and change. Jerome’s journey isn’t about guiding Heidi or making it through rehab, not really. It’s about him figuring out that he wants to change, that he wants to become a different and better person.
There is more being tested, in other words, than his ability to safely guide a soul. And as the book progresses, and we make it through the Ten Commandments of the Dead that Jerome has broken time and time again, we see in the second half of the novel the Commandments of the Living, commandments that Jerome upholds instinctively, not by trying to be “good” or “worthy,” but just by being the person he is growing into. And that’s an incredibly powerful message.
The book isn’t perfect. There were some pacing issues, especially around the middle, I didn’t always buy the actions of the characters, and the end of Heidi’s story seemed a bit off to me, but overall, the message of the book won me over. There is romance to the story, but that wasn’t really the focal point, which I appreciated. At its core, this was a book about the fact that it’s never too late to become a better person. And that’s a message we could sure use more of.