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The Day the Angels Fell – A book review

January 30, 2018

Why at first I didn’t like The Day the Angels Fell

Book review

I enjoy the writing of Shawn Smucker: his books, his blog and the Uber driving stories he shares on his author Facebook page. I was first introduced to his writing as he assisted Johnny Mast in writing the excellent if understated Breakaway Amish: Growing up with the Bergholz Beard Cutters published by Herald Press in 2016.

Then Smucker came out with a novel for children or adolescents, The Day the Angels Fell published by Revell in 2017. I bought a beautiful hardbound copy with a dust jacket that uses spot gloss to highlight long artistic rain smears (I would call them drops, but they are more like a mix of lightning and rain) which at first I critiqued to my design colleagues at the office. I said the gloss (shiny stuff often put on book covers to catch your eye in bookstores) made the white type font on back cover hard to read unless you held it at just the right angle in whatever light you had. Always an issue with those of us past middle age.

And at first I wasn’t sure if I liked the book enough, either, to review it. I usually don’t like to review books if I don’t like them because … I’m an author too and I know how much bad reviews can sting. But it was a top award winner late last year in the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2018 in the children and youth category (where the publisher I work for also happily picked up an award for God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church) so I figured there was something wrong with me if I didn’t love the book.

Then, months later here in January, driving along a back road on a rainy wintry night and passing a country funeral home, suddenly I thought of the young protagonist in Smucker’s book, who lost his mother. His mother had gone out in a lightning storm to rescue his cat that had gone up in a tree, and he knew he inadvertently caused his mother’s death.

Suddenly I put my finger on why something in me had recoiled against the plot line of the book. Inside I was remembering the many viewings we have attended over the years at that small country chapel—the accidents, the assumed suicides of beloved acquaintances who were taken from us much too soon, and I found myself shaking those tragedies in my brain like a distraught parent shaking a child in their mind (not in real life). That was why the book didn’t sit well: not the writing or the plot, but how it shakes you up.

The book taps all of our worst fears—not in this case the death of a child, but the death of the mother of an adolescent boy, and what happens to him as he deals with his grief in the days immediately after her death. None of us want that to happen to our children, either. And therein lies the power of this disturbing book. What would happen to my kids if I should die? For the author, with he and his wife currently raising six beloved children ages toddler to early teens—a troubling question indeed.

I realized my mixed feelings about the book then were not about the writing: no, it is masterful. Underplayed in places, rarely overdone, compelling, the mysteries keep you reading along with the questions about life and death he poses through his characters. The back of the book frames it this way: “Could it be possible that death is a gift?” Not the kind of question most of us want to answer—except that these are the important questions of life itself.

Young Sam wishes to turn back time on the night his mother died so he could keep his mother from going where she shouldn’t have gone. His adventures with his best friend, Abra (both are names of the author’s own children) mingle magic and fantasy and will appeal to young readers—I think—even though magic and fantasy are not my personal favorite genres. Improbably, Sam endeavors to find and bring his mother back to life, not an unrealistic wish for any child losing a parent. It is not for younger readers (like say seven through perhaps 10-12). It takes a certainly level of maturity to process the book. It reminded me of another award-winning (the esteemed Caldecott Award) young reader book from my own younger days, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, published in 1977. Patterson drew her inspiration from the true loss of a son’s friend struck by lightning. Is that where Smucker got his idea? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to be inspired by another writer, you might as well be inspired by among the best.

I was relieved to discover why I was uncomfortable with the book, and now know that it is this terrifying topic that I didn’t like: not the writing, not the premise for the book, but my own shrinking from the unthinkable thoughts.

Bravo to the author for fingering and naming the fears held closest to our hearts. In doing so, he puts his hand on the bigger theme of our struggle as humans with the nature of good and evil. One line I had tabbed early in the book hints at the underlying grand theme: “But the darkness I [the protagonist] had taken with me from the cemetery grew just a little bit inside me.” Late in the novel Smucker also pens a disturbing but not unrealistic thought: “Maybe that’s the saddest part of death, the knowledge that when we die, we will eventually be forgotten.” That too.

Back to life. If you “like” Smucker’s author page on Facebook, you likely won’t find any of his fascinating Uber #RideShareConfessional blog stories for awhile because he’s in the midst of writing another novel and while he continues to do Uber runs to put bread on the table, he has put those blog stories on hold to finish this new novel under contract. And, like another earlier great writer, John Steinback, is writing about his process, each day! And sharing those inner thoughts and insights with interested readers. If you’re a writer type you may be interested in getting his daily emails (yes, I said daily, Monday through Friday) where he shares his writerly ups and downs as he progresses.  You can sign up here. Or on a weekly basis, this page, and find the archive of all his journal type posts.

If you too become a Smucker fan and buy any of his books, know that you are helping feed hungry children. His, and all of us who hunger for meaty stories like this.


What thoughts does this review stir for you? Memories of the loss of loved ones? My own father felt he brought on his father’s death (at the age of 92) when he gave him a drink and Grandpa died choking. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.


To my own faithful readers who perhaps wonder why I’m not blogging as much as I used to (mainly re-posting my Another Way newspaper columns here) I too am a bit overloaded at the moment with various jobs.  We also no longer get up at 3 a.m. for my husband’s job, so I’m blogging a bit less and will keep in touch here as ideas and thoughts and recipes and book reviews bubble up and beg to be written.

Here’s the novel and a link to buy it!

If the Amish fascinate you, and you remember hearing about the perversion of this overall honorable and faithful folk, you might appreciate the truths borne home by this insider look at the Bergholtz beard cutter travesty, co-written by Johnny Mast and Shawn Smucker. Check here.

And here’s the Herald Press award-winning book, God’s Country, if you’re looking! Another beautifully written book of stories about the rural church and how it can not only survive, but thrive.

  1. The most interesting thing about this book review is observing your growing awareness of why you resisted reviewing it.

    By the way, it’s okay to blog less. When I reduced my posting to only once a week, one reader mentioned she was relieved because she was able to keep up better. Win, win!

  2. It hit me like lightning.:-) I was relieved because I truly wanted to bring more attention to Shawn’s book. And I was giddy to finally get a review up, it was nagging at my thoughts. And thanks for the per to blog less, as I am, and as you are.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    I have not read this book. I am reading at the moment, though, THINK NO EVIL that he coauthored.

  4. Let us know what you think of Think No Evil. He’s a busy busy writer!

  5. Athanasia permalink

    THINK NO EVIL was good. I’m not a big review writer, as in analysis and all that. Not my favorite part of the job. But we’ve had it in our library for years and just never got around to reading it. I was actually compiling list to use for the Social Studies classes of related readings….AMISH GRACE, SHE SAID YES, RACHEL’S TEARS…..was not imagining another school shooting. Always want to believe, to hope, there will never be another.

    • We must always believe and hope and work toward the day when they will be no more, will be unimaginable. How our hearts go out to all involved: teachers, parents, students. Thanks for your report on Think no Evil. Blessings.

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