Samuel Chambers is an old man, preparing to attend the funeral of his last friend. He lives alone in the farmhouse he grew up in. He has a story to tell, a story about the time when he was 10, when his mother died from a lightning strike in an old oak tree in the yard. It’s a story about what happened when his mother died, how he learned about the tree of life, and how he believed it might bring his mother back to life.
It’s the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden, and it is somewhere to be found in a valley in central Pennsylvania where Sam lives. His best friend Abra Miller lives not far away, just down the road at another farm. And she will help him. He has to find the Tree of Life so his mother can be brought back from the dead.
His helped, and hindered, by Mr. Jinn who lives across the road, and by Mr. Tennin who is hired by Sam’s father to help around the farm. They don’t seem to like each other very much. And with good reason: they’ve been fighting each other for thousands of years.
This is Shawn Smucker’s The Day the Angels Fell, part Scripture story, part legend, part fantasy, part children’s story, part suspense novel, and possibly even part allegory. It’s not about the temptation of Adam and Eve, when they ate of the Tree of Knowledge; it’s about another, related temptation – the lure of living forever in this life. And a young boy has to face that temptation, for what he believes is the best of reasons.
It’s a marvelous tale, full of vivid characterization, a host of villains and near-villains, a strange shadow animal roaming and seeking to devour, and a boy and his father consumed by grief. Smucker draws the characters of Sam and Abra exactly right, so right, in fact, that the reader easily slips inside their skins. The narrative moves back and forth between Sam as a boy and Sam in old age, underscoring not only the changes that happen in a life but also what stays the same.
Smucker has previously published several works of non-fiction, including an account of his Amish family history and making a life of writing. He’s also co-authored a book about a Pennsylvania family torn apart by a murder.
The Day the Angels Fell is his first novel. It’s a winning, engaging story, difficult to put down (which I proved by reading it almost completely straight through) and equally appealing to older children and adults.
Top photograph by Brandon Morgan via Unsplash. Used with permission.