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On Sale: February 08, 2011
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89625-5
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.

Miriam is an unassuming college freshman stuck on campus after her spring break plans fall through. She's not a religious girl--when pressed she admits reluctantly to believing in a higher power. Truth be told, she's about as comfortable speaking about her faith as she is about her love life, which is to say, not at all. And then the archangel Raphael pays Miriam a visit, and she finds herself on a desperate mission to save two of her contemporaries. To top it all off, her twin brother, Mo, has also had a visitation, but from the opposite end of the good-evil spectrum, which leaves Miriam to wonder--has she been blessed and her brother cursed or vice versa? And what is the real purpose behind her mission?


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

I.

The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.

I am not a religious girl. I do not belong to a Bible study, group, though I was invited. Twice. I do not belong to a synagogue at school. Or a church, for that matter. When pressed, I admit a reluctant belief in a higher power. Reluctant, because such admissions invariably open me up to long, intense discussions. The asker wants to know either how I could possibly hold such childish and naïve beliefs, given the state of the world, or, conversely, given my said beliefs, how I could not be attending services, deepening my understanding and devotion of said higher power.

I am as comfortable speaking about my faith as I am about my sex life. That is to say, not very.

The day I meet Raphael is not a good one, though not so horrible as to merit celestial intervention. It is spring break, and I am the only student staying in the dorms on my floor. There are only three of us in the entire building. We chat a bit when we bump into each other in the common room, but the two of them are working on a project for their astronomy class. They are filled with that low-key intensity that comes from having uninterrupted time to work on an extensive project. Whereas I am here, bored and lonely, by default because my spring break plans fell through. This is my brother's fault. But more on that later.

I have never stayed in a nearly vacant building before. There are the creaks, pops, and groans of an aging dormitory resting for a moment. Other than that, it is so quiet I can hear dust mites landing.

In my room, I am obeying the rules of cohabitation even though my roommate isn't here. Instinctively I find myself staying in my half of the room. Slouched on my bed, listlessly flipping through my con law textbook, I'm keeping an eye on the clock. The cafeteria has reduced hours, and though I've never cared for their food, the new, shorter mealtimes are the only thing giving my aimless days some structure. Dinner is from five to seven. Miss that and I'm stuck snacking on stale crackers or spending too much money on greasy pizza or hamburgers from the no-name restaurants nearby.

I keep an eye on the clock.

At this moment in time, if asked what I think about life, I would say that it is sometimes hard, sometimes beautiful, that we are alone in the universe, and that although there is probably a God, He is far away and not paying much attention.

I am skimming halfheartedly through the chapter on search and seizure when a tsunamic shrieking noise splits apart my dorm wall. I fall off the bed, smacking the sharp point of my elbow on the side of my desk, knocking over a chair. A cold, burning, glowing light singes my clothes, scorches my skin. The light fills the room, pouring in from the broken wall. I can't see. My bed, the desk, the chair, have disappeared in the flare. The icy light is glacier blue, exosphere thin. A voice coming from the light speaks in Ancient Hebrew. No, it is the light. I feel the words, the voice, reverberating down the vertebrae of my spine, coursing with the blood cells in my veins, and a terrible face neither female nor male imprints itself on the retinas behind my tightly closed eyes.

I curl into a protective comma, arms covering my head. The light tears me, burns me. I claw at my hair, my eyes, weeping. I wet myself. I pass out.

When I come to, I am sprawled on the floor in a parody of drunken abandon. I slowly sit up, drawing my limbs inward from their starfish-like stretch. Rubbing the growing bruise on my elbow and wincing from my aching head, I hold myself, crossing my arms over my chest, rocking back and forth. I notice with slight detachment that I am shaking like a struck tuning fork, vibrating.

Hesitantly, I look at the wall. It is whole, smooth, seamless. Its painted Sheetrock, scarred and dinged from years of freshman abuse, mocks the notion that anything has ever come through it. It has never split in two. Never has, never will.

There is no trace of the event. Nothing to show that I have just lost my mind except for the puddle at my feet, the deep scratches on my face.



II.

Perhaps it is divine intervention that made Raphael choose spring break to come visit. I spend the next three days stupefied. I can't shake the memory of that voice; the terrifying feeling of my skin scorched with ice; the wall ripped open, then closed without a seam. I look up "delusions of grandeur" on the Internet; also "schizophrenia." I read that the insane do not think they are mad. The voices in their head, they claim, come from God.

It takes three days before my subconscious gets around to translating the angel's words. I studied Hebrew for my bat mitzvah, but it's been a while.

"I am Raphael, the archangel. Evacuate Tabitha, daughter of John, before the Sabbath."

A quick search of "Raphael" and I discover that he is considered the left hand of God. The founder of medicine. The root of his name, rapha, is the same as the root for "medicine" in Hebrew, rephuah. Raphael, while giving the doctors the desire to heal, also supports the coldness needed to inflict necessary acts of pain. I decide, then and there, that I will not study medicine.

To prove to myself that it is absurd, an LSD flashback without the LSD, I ask the few remaining stragglers around campus if they know anyone named Tabitha. A last name would help, but maybe hallucinations aren't supposed to be easy.


From the Hardcover edition.
Tammar Stein

About Tammar Stein

Tammar Stein - Kindred

Photo © Fred Stein

"Stories are what take us away from traffic jams and ketchup stains
and allergies and all the other mundane or unpleasant life events that we go
through. Stories inspire us to be better."--Tammar Stein


Tammar Stein has lived in Israel, Europe, and the United States. Light Years is her first novel.

I’ve always loved stories. Fairy tales, adventures, tragedies, heroes and
villains, stories are what take us away from traffic jams and ketchup stains
and allergies and all the other mundane or unpleasant life events that we go
through. Stories inspire us to be better. They lift us away from our
problems. And if they’re really good, they help us see the world through
someone else’s eyes. That’s the best part for me. Because I always wonder
about other people, about their life, about their feelings. What’s it like
to grow up in Pakistan? What’s it like to be an orphan, or a prisoner of
war, or an insane genius? Reading a good book lets you inside the head of
this stranger that you have nothing in common with. You live together and
get to know each other. You laugh with them or maybe cry for them and it can
open your eyes to things you never noticed before.

Reading is one my favorite things to do. Unfortunately, it’s kind of tough
to make a career just from reading. Being a writer is the next best thing.
I get to stay in my pajamas until noon and I get to play with imaginary
friends all day long and even talk about them with other people–all without
being considered certifiably insane. That’s a pretty sweet deal. But writing
isn’t easy. There are days when my imaginary friends don’t come. Then I’m
stuck there, alone in front of a blank screen with the curser just blinking,
waiting for me to write something down. But on the days when they do decide
to visit, and the writing flows, it all comes together. I’m transported away
from sitting in a chair, in an office, in a house, to a place that exists
only in my imagination. And if I’m lucky, when I’m done, other people who
read my book could go there too.

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