Thursday, October 14, 2010

My take on: Heavenly

Ever wish for someone to watch over you more? Someone to make sure you don't get hurt physically or emotionally? Someone to try and prevent you from making mistakes. That is usually your parents, but sometimes even they are overwhelmed. A guardian angel would be the best of both worlds. Would you see it as a blessing? Or would it uproot your life? Would you want to always have to be on your guard because someone is watching over you? Those are just some of the themes at play in Heavenly by Jennifer Laurens, the first book in a YA trilogy.

Zoe is an 18-year-old girl lost in a sea of family problems, problems at school and alcohol. As the oldest of three, Zoe has become a de facto parent to her drug addict younger brother Luke and her 5-year-old autistic sister Abria. Luke has mentally checked out of the family, lost in a fog of marijuana, prescription pills and other drugs. Her parents are shells of their former selves. Caring for Abria has tired them out.

"Her eyes met mine; weary and hopeless. I hated that look. The Mom I remembered before Abria was diagnosed was lively, determined, strong, and never gave up. This Mom I'd seen gradually worn down, sanded away until only tissue paper remained."

When her overworked parents can't, Zoe has to keep an eye on Abria, who is prone to unpredictable behavior. One moment Abria is happily flapping her arms and smiling, the next she disappears. Life at school is just as tough, at least in her teenage mind, trying to navigate a friendship with boy-crazy Britt. When all of that becomes too much, Zoe drowns herself in alcohol -- although she denies having a problem.

"Clouds had shadowed our lives only after Abria came onto the scene. Why did she have to be in our family? This question nipped at me continually, an ugly, itchy rash that never went away, just moved to another part of me. Countless times I'd been unable to answer the question with what reason resided in my head."

This quote is one of many that rang true with me. Yes you love your family, but sometimes you wish things were different. After so many years of strife and turmoil, you wish your family was "normal" and happy.

During one of Abria's countless disappearances, a strange young man named Matthias comes to her rescue. Zoe is thankful yet leery of Matthias. There is something intriguing and attractive about him. After repeated appearances, all while saving Abria from danger, Zoe is shocked to learn he is a guardian angel, whom only she and Abria can she. After many long talks, Zoe finds herself attracted to Matthias. But despite her feelings and his own, they can't be together. Is she crazy for loving and wanting someone she can't have? There are so many things to love about him. He speaks in a calming, reassuring voice. He even becomes Zoe's moral compass. Just Matthias' presence makes Zoe question her own behavior. The problems with Britt have become so insignificant. How can she remain silent about Luke's drug use and ignore her own problems with alcohol? Is she a good person? Is there a Heaven? Is she going to Heaven? What is God like?

I normally shy away from books dealing with personal spirituality. I often wonder if books that deal with it are pushing an agenda, but that is not the case here. The story presented here is very real, one of a family in shambles, which Jennifer Laurens taps into very well. Zoe is like any typical teen. She would rather worry about teenage things -- boys, school, friends and parties. Her family was whole and happy, but then Abria's diagnosis fractures it. Other members of the family choose to ignore or mask their problems. Spirituality aside, these are problems every one can relate too. The ending is sad, but it also leaves you wanting for more. How exactly does Zoe's journey end? Since this is a trilogy, I don't know yet. But the first part of her journey is emotional, engaging and a worthwhile read.

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. For information on Jennifer Laurens and the rest of the series (Penitence, Absolution) visit: http://www.heavenlythebook.com/default.aspx

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