Reviewed by Sara Hodon
A review of The Guardian Angel’s Journal
by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Paperback: 320 pages, April 1, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-0824948795
Many of us believe that angels exist to protect, guide, and generally keep watch over us here on Earth. Author Carolyn Jess-Cooke explores this in The Guardian Angel’s Journal, in which a guardian angel is sent to Earth to watch over her mortal self to witness her life over again and perhaps prevent some horrible events from happening.
As I read this book, I kept thinking of the films City of Angels and Wings of Desire, both of which focus on the idea of angels walking among us. While Jess-Cooke’s story is actually a bit darker than either of those films, I think the basic premise is the same. Jess-Cooke introduces us to Margot Delacroix, the main character who dies and is sent back to earth as her guardian angel, renamed Ruth. Margot’s life was not easy–she was a foster child, abused throughout childhood, later marrying Toby, an up-and-coming novelist grappling with his own self-doubt. Ruth, unfortunately, does not have the power to prevent many of the worst events in Margot’s life–a fact she struggles with throughout the book. She does her best to steer Margot away from the self-destructive marriage to Toby, but finds herself falling in love with him all over again. Jess-Cooke does not paint Margot as a very likable character. Readers share Ruth’s unique omnipotent viewpoint and at times it’s frustrating to see Margot make mistakes or get into a harmful situation before she sees it for herself. Many of these situations seem preventable if only she’d had a little more forethought and self-respect.
Jess-Cooke examines many of the perceptions of guardian angels that religions have taught over the years. According to Jess-Cooke, guardian angels are not able to save humans from themselves quite as much as we think. Ruth constantly reminds herself of the “Golden Rules” of guardian angels: “Watch. Protect. Record. Love.” Ruth lives vicariously through Margot, relishing the best parts of her life on earth but also being forced to relive the more difficult moments. It is interesting to experience a character from an omniscient point of view–the story is really Ruth’s as she adjusts to life as a spiritual being, watching her human self from a distance. She also interacts with other guardian angels–Margot, Toby, and their son Theo each have their own guardian angels who carefully nudge them through life, although they quickly learn that it’s nearly impossible to save humans from themselves–and has a few run-ins with demons, who hover over humans, waiting for the slightest lapse in judgment to wield their influence. Jess-Cooke’s characters grapple with infidelity, drug abuse, incarceration, alcoholism, and a host of other problems, yet the tiniest thread of hope and salvation–their angels–provide a sliver of retribution. These spiritual beings do their best to right as many wrongs as they can, but even their powers are limited.
It’s an interesting way to examine both a character’s actions–we don’t delve too deeply into Margot’s psyche, but rather merely observe like Ruth–and think about what moments in our own lives we would like to go back and relive. It also makes us wonder about those moments when it seems as though there truly was some divine intervention at work, such as just missing a flight on a plane that later crashes, or being in the right place at the right time to secure the job or opportunity of your dreams. The Guardian Angel’s Journal might just reinforce the belief that there truly are other forces at work, whether we actively recognize them or not.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the Date and Relate columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com