Max Shaw is dead.
kWell, sort of.After dying on prom night, Max was recruited by a mysterious tattooed angel named Slade to join a group of teenage reapers. Cocky and sarcastic, Max thinks he has his afterlife together, but the moment Slade assigns him to his first suicide case, everything changes.Christian college student Kody Michaels is struggling to make sense of his life and his faith. After a failed suicide attempt at an antigay camp, Kody is determined not to fail again. Tired of disappointing his family and God, he is going to end his life once and for all.But in a split-second decision, Max saves Kody—defying the rules of a reaper.Max believes his only concern is convincing Kody that God loves him just the way he is, so he can save him from a hellish afterlife as a shade. Little does Max know, some shades have found a way to walk among the living as wraiths. These evil wraiths know Kody has been slated for death, and they have another, darker purpose for him.Max has only one night to save Kody before one of Slade's team finishes the job Max lacked the courage to complete.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: Under 18
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Bodyguard/Guardian Angel, Coming of Age, Coming Out / Closeted, Hurt / Comfort
Word Count: 6000-
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Some days being a reaper was the worst job in the universe.
Most of the time I’m okay with being dead, though I won’t lie, it took me a while to accept my new life would never be that of a normal teenager. The night Slade recruited me and the authorities carted my mortal remains off to the morgue for my parents to identify, my life had taken a very strange twist.
Weird and depressing but wonderful at times too.READ MORE
I didn’t know the exact number of reapers on this side of life who helped people pass over, but there were a lot of us. I answered directly to Slade. If you caught those rare glimpses of his real power, he was one scary reaper/angel. He’d never clarified what he was, so I usually went with angel. In a weird way, it sort of suited him, despite his fixation with motorcycle attire and ink. I figured out real quick his tattoos changed according to mood, as did his weapon choice. One day he totted cowboy guns and another, a Samurai sword. No amount of incessant questioning ever produced an answer as to why an angel needed weapons, but it didn’t stop me from asking.
Slade wrangled a team of dead youths, each of us around my death age of sixteen. He’d confided in me once that when he saw my spirit standing in the road, he knew I was no ordinary death. I was special and had a bigger purpose.
As far as I could tell, however, I was no different than my fellow reapers. Slade often said, “Max, it takes a special soul to do what we do, and you’re one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
But tonight I hated my job.
I really, really hated it.
Every day, members of our team received files with our charges—aka a list of those we would deliver to heaven. Cases sometimes changed midshift, and then Slade would send us somewhere else, but more often than not everything went as expected, and we reapers rarely saw our boss. Slade was off doing literally only God knew what. All holy missions were on a need-to-know basis, and frankly, we had all been told many times, we did not need to know.
Depending on how complicated the crossover was expected to be, a reaper could help up to thirty people in one shift. Young humans and accidental deaths like mine took the most time. Generally, the elderly were more than ready to head up to the big golf course in the sky, and their cases, paperwork and all, could be wrapped up in less than half an hour.
Yet today I had been given one charge—Kody Michaels.
Our caseload had been unusually light recently, but I’d never been given one death for a shift. I should’ve suspected something wasn’t right.
Now, staring at Kody standing on a bridge, I suddenly understood.
My first suicide.
Damn you, Slade.
Quite a bit taller than me, Kody had dark brown hair and a slim build. His face was screwed up in a horrific agony as he studied the long drop to the river below. He muttered nonsensical noises under his breath, whimpers or maybe a prayer? I had no idea. Whatever he said, he was quite fervent about it, and his desperation sent a stab of grief through me.
I covered my mouth with a hand, fighting back the unexpected swell of human emotions I shouldn’t have anymore. But no amount of training could’ve prevented the achy sensation of hopelessness from surfacing. Kody’s shaking hands gripped the railing of the bridge, his blue eyes locked on the rushing water below.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I looked down to the boy’s chosen fate. The river ran high from heavy rains but not high enough to hide the large rocks jutting up like swords ready to end a life. I shivered with trepidation and a suddenly cool breeze.
Movement near the edge of the riverbank caught my eye.
I squinted into the darkness and swore something moved, shifting within the shadows. Was someone down there? But when I blinked the shadow was gone. Probably just an animal or the moonlight playing tricks on my eyes.
Furiously, I wiped tears from my face, trying to get ahold of myself. But when I saw Kody’s face, they just kept coming. Reapers weren’t supposed to hurt for our charges because we didn’t fear death.
We were death.
The roar of an engine startled me, and I jumped as a car approached us.
The headlights illuminated Kody in a macabre image, every detail seared onto my memory—the purple T-shirt, the slim-fit jeans. His shoes were untied, and his long eyelashes were matted with tears. When the light flashed across the wetness on his red cheeks, I saw something in his eyes—a wish that the driver might stop and help him? Had he been praying after all?
But there was no saving his mortal life.
Not if I was already here.
In less than an instant, the motorist was gone, never even slowing. I had not imagined the glimpse of lucidity and hope in Kody’s eyes. When the red taillights faded into the night, however, the boy’s helpless sob filled the air—a sound which would haunt me the rest of my days.
Why hadn’t Slade warned me? He hadn’t been into the office in months, but twenty minutes ago he’d hand-delivered me Kody’s file. And he hadn’t said a thing! No suggestions, no advice, nothing!
Unequipped to deal with this kind of death, I’d never been given an assignment as young as Kody. The file said he’d just turned eighteen—two years older than I’d been when I’d died. What would drive a boy so close to my own age to suicide? What was so bad in his life that he would chose to end it rather than live? I would give anything to live again, to have one more day….That thought was like a slap in the face. My own lost youth barreled in on me, drawing old memories to the surface. All this time, I’d believed I had come to grips with my death, but seeing this kid throwing away all the chances I would never have brought a rush of unresolved emotions back with a vengeance.
Anger at this selfish boy and an overwhelming pity warred within me.
Kody was still living, but I would never graduate high school, go to college, or even buy my first car. I would never get to find true love or enjoy my first kiss—with another boy this time. My life had been stolen from me, yet Kody was ready to throw his away?
He let out another sob, ripping at my heart and cutting through any real resentment.
How could I be mad at this boy for taking his own life when he was so visibly broken?
Get a grip, I ordered myself, brushing at the wetness still slicking my face.
Hadn’t I accepted my lot in life by now? I rarely stopped by to watch my family anymore and hadn’t checked up on Debby since she’d gone to California for college. I’d even gotten over my bitterness at dying a virgin—sort of—and generally I enjoyed helping people cross over. I’d even found genuine friends within Slade’s group of reapers. Granted none of them were gay, but still....
What was my problem tonight?
Kody placed one foot on the railing of the bridge, his body trembling as he hoisted himself up. The concrete rail had been wetted from an earlier autumn rain, but his foot was sure. He began to murmur again, his breath visible in the cool air. I felt guilty when I tried to listen in, yet relieved when I could not understand.
Blinking back more tears, I struggled to maintain the businesslike compassion all reapers possessed. All I needed to do was reach out and lay the Touch on him. The long fall would take care of the rest. Then I would find his soul and guide him over.
It was standard procedure.
Yet I couldn’t move, paralyzed by pity and my own flailing emotions.
The boy’s second leg went over the railing, and he sat on the edge staring down and clutching the concrete tightly, his knuckles boney and white.
Briefly, I wondered if I would have to shift down to the riverbank to collect him, or if his spirit would stay on the bridge once the fall or the large rocks and cold water killed him.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep, fortifying breath, uttering one simple word:
Serenity cleansed away the pain in his face, softening the lines of grief and wilting the tension in his shoulders.
His hands relaxed, letting go.
When he pushed off, I did something I had never done before.
I saved his life.COLLAPSE
Max Shaw is frozen in time having died at the age of sixteen, on prom night of all nights, he now lives his afterlife as a reaper, collecting souls at the time of their death. The job has always been simple enough and Max has never broken any of the rules, but his latest charge changes everything. When Max finds a guy, not a boy but not quite yet a man, about to jump off a bridge, something inside him shifts. Instead of leading Kody into his afterlife, Max saves his life and puts them both in danger.
After coming out to his ultra conservative parent's, Kody was sent to a "camp" that was supposed to get his head on "straight". All it did was screw his mind up and make him think there was something wrong with him, that he is bad because he is gay. This was not his first suicide attempt, but Max is determined to make sure it is his last. That is if he can keep Kody safe from his boss, the Grim Reaper Slade, and the evil Shades that posses bodies at the time of their death to elongate their own miserable existence.
This book deals with a few dark and dangerous aspects of young, gay life. Parents that fail at their number one job, to love their child unconditionally. Suicide, dying before your time, the darker side of the spirit and coming to terms with who you are. Worth did an amazing job of balancing every negative in the story with something positive though, which gave the story as well as the characters depth. While Max's life was far different from Kody's, Max kept the truth about his sexuality to himself. Now he will stop at nothing to protect Kody, keep him alive, and convince him that it is okay to be attracted to someone of the same sex.
I was very intrigued with this story, there was a huge spiritual aspect to it, sometimes fanatical, but it was ever present throughout the story. Yet, I only felt like I was being preached at once, with Kody's neighbor who I wanted to "fix" Kody. And then there was the life, death and afterlife trifecta of the story. Who is the mysterious Slade that governs over the Reapers? And why is he so hell bent on delivering Kody to his afterlife when Max feels that him saving Kody was the right thing to do. Is Slade really on God's side, or are his machinations starting to run darker?
Well written, intriguing and while this is a YA story, I never lost interest or felt the content was immature or lacking. The characters are young and face real problems other teenagers there age and in their similar situations face. They just don't usually face their death by being offered a job as a Reaper. If you are a fan of stories that are raw with a fantastical kind of reality behind them, then I think you'll enjoy this light read.