Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins

  • Title: Repossessed
  • Author: A. M. Jenkins
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • Year Published: 2008
  • ISBN: 0060835702
  • List Price: $16.99
  • Page Count: 240
  • Age Range: 13+
  • Genre: paranormal fiction
  • Award(s): Printz Honor Book; more here.

Author information: A. M. Jenkins is (and this surprised me) a woman! Her first career was as a high school math teacher until she quit to write full time. She has now written many YA titles. Her blog is updated a few times per month and includes details about her daily life, updates on her writing projects, and general thoughts and musings that she wants to share with her fans. The blog can be scattered, as the author says it helps her to talk through her ideas when working on a project and she likes to put all of her thoughts down on her blog to help her process them. Another YA author, Cynthia Smith, interviewed Jenkins on her blog about a few of her books, including Repossessed. In the interview, she says that the idea for the novel came to her quickly, but the challenge was making the demon’s experience interesting enough that readers would want to learn more and continue reading the book. She also says that creating the voice for Kiriel was easy because it is very similar to her own, natural voice. This interview also asked Jenkins what advice she would give her younger writer self (none–she wouldn’t have listened) and what upcoming projects she was working on at the time.

Reviews: Both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly gave this novel positive reviews. Both publications mentioned that Kiriel’s voice was funny and heartwarming and that his childlike sense of wonder at the world makes this book an enjoyable read. Kirkus comments that “Kiriel’s own search for meaning and direction from his own realm in this new life packs an intriguingly deep wallop” and Publisher’s Weekly echoes this sentiment by suggesting that Kiriel’s crisis of faith will mirror teenagers’ own uncertainties. Both reviews agree that this book will resonate with teens and they will be eager to read this novel.

Readers annotation: What would happen if a demon decided to take a vacation from Hell and live as a teenage boy instead?

Summary: Kiriel has spent centuries as a demon of hell, helping to torture the souls who have be damned for eternity. The problem is that after eons of the same work, Hell can become pretty boring. He decides he needs a vacation, so he possesses the body of a teenager named Shaun who is about to die after stepping into oncoming traffic while not paying attention. Because Kiriel is determined to experience everything he can before he is dragged back to Hell and punished for his actions, he makes significant changes in Shaun’s life regarding how he treats his family, his schoolwork, and his social relationships. Kiriel-as-Shaun begins being nicer to his brother and spending more time with him, tries to seduce Lane, a girl from school, so that he can experience sex, and stands up to the school bully, Reed, in an attempt to save him centuries in Hell for his mean behavior. During the course of his “vacation”, Kiriel learns a lot about himself and the beauty of human nature.

Evaluation: The strength of this novel lies in the narrative voice. Kiriel is a very sypathetic demon–his explanations for why he wants to leave Hell in the first place are logical and hilarious, his wonderment at even the most mudane things in life is endearing, and his decisions to help others, even when those decisions are motivated in part by selfishness, make him a relatable character and one that the reader is rooting for. Jenkins uses the premise of the novel to her advantage, finding the absurd in our everyday ations and highlighting them through the eyes of somebody who has never experienced them before, such as Kiriel’s attempts to seduce his classmate Lane. This novel also does a good job making Kiriel’s character development a gradual affair; he begins the story completely self-absorbed and by the end he understands the beauty of human relationships and connecting to another person. The weakness of the novel is that it often felt didactic and heavy handed. The morals that Jenkins was trying to demonstrate were obvious and at times it felt like she was hitting the reader over the head with humankind’s need to be kind to one another and develop meaningful connections. This could have been portrayed more subtley and to greater effect. In spite of this flaw, the book still remains entertaining and accessible while prompting the reader to think about his or her own life and appreciate the small things in the world.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 3/5  The premise of this novel is clever and well-executed, the writing is witty and the narrative voice strong, and Kiriel is a sympathetic character. However, the moral is too obvious and the path the writer took to get to that moral was predicable and slow at times.
  • Popularity4/5  This is a great pick for reluctant readers. As mentioned above, the premise of this novel is unusual and will attract a wide range of readers, and Kiriel’s voice is a perfect blend of snarky and sincere for a teenage audience. Teenagers will enjoy Kiriel’s exploration of the world (especially in the realm of sexuality) and will be encouraged to examine their own lives based on the way the characters in the novel treat each other and themselves.
  • Appeal factors: demons, supernatural beings, relationship building, examination of the world with fresh eyes.

Read-alikes: 

  1.  Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is a natural recommendation for those readers who liked this novel. Although the stakes are higher in Good Omens, as the fate of the world is at stake rather than just the life and happiness of one demon and one teenage boy, both novels showcase supernatural creatures (demons and angels) interacting with the human world, and both use humor and sarcasm in order to do so.
  2. Readers who enjoyed reading about a demon in the human world may also like Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series. This series of five books imagines that Death, Fate, Time, War, and Nature are roles that are taken on by humans and held for centuries, and these are responsible for all of the major events that occur on earth. As with Repossessed, these incarnations often have to interact with humans and must deal with the consquences of this such as falling in love and developing relationships.

Book talk ideas: The premise of this novel is a huge draw to the book, so start by telling readers to imagine that a demon from Hell is bored and wants to experience human life, so he takes over the body of a teenage boy. Explain the difficulties that this could present to the demon and ask them to imagine what it would be like to experience  little things that are taken for granted, such as eating breakfast, for the first time. This book also has a strong narrative voice and might benefit from reading an exerpt from the first chapter so that potential readers can get an understanding of how Kiriel talks and the type of humor that is employed throughout the novel.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  • “Knowing doesn’t hold a candle to doing.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • In what ways did having Kiriel narrate the story enhance the novel? How would a third person narration be different?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying? Did you think the ending was appropriate?

Reason for reading: I’m a sucker for paranormal fiction, and as soon as I read the synopsis for this book I wanted to check it out. I don’t know if it met my expectations, as I’ve read many good novels that have demons, gods, or other supernatural beings in them that gave the subject more thoughtful treatment, but I did find the book interesting. I believe this would be a great title to recommend to reluctant readers, due to its short page count, its sarcastic and funny narrative voice, and its supernatural subject matter.

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