Kevin Morrell is a forty-three-year-old husband and father who runs a successful design and marketing firm now suffering in the current economy. Attempting to navigate the hectic Christmas mall traffic, Kevin stumbles across the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Project. His wife insists that he take a paper ornament.
The name on the ornament is Thomas Brandt, a fifteen-year-old still reeling from the implosion of his family—from years of verbal abuse from an alcoholic father to a struggling single mother who now finds herself and her children penniless. The only thing that has allowed Lynn to survive is her faith. Thomas shares that faith, but he also wonders why God has seemingly abandoned them.
Destined to become a holiday classic, Paper Angels shares “two intertwined stories about family life and hard times...the hope of the Christmas holiday and...the goodness and compassion of loving hearts” (RT Book Reviews).
|Product dimensions:||4.82(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.84(d)|
About the Author
Bestselling author Travis Thrasher has written over fifty books and worked in the publishing industry for more than twenty years. His inspirational stories have included collaborations with filmmakers, musicians, athletes, and pastors. He has written fiction in a variety of genres, from love stories and supernatural thrillers to young adult series. He also has cowritten memoirs and self-help books.
Read an Excerpt
When his mom decided it was time for them to leave and leave for good, Thomas knew they better get far away or he’d come and find them. The good thing or the bad thing, depending on how one looked at it, was that it was Christmas day and food was still cooking in the kitchen. Just another Christmas, with Mom sweating in a tiny room over a tiny stove, Thomas and Sara dreaming of the iPods or gaming equipment they could be enjoying, and Dad watching college basketball on his flat-screen television and drinking with a vengeance. This was the worst time they could possibly ever leave, and that was what made it the best.
“Thomas, I need your help,” Mom called.
He didn’t go right away, watching the game with almost as much interest as Dad. It was only when his father barked out his name that Thomas went. Dad wasn’t concerned about Mom’s needing help—he didn’t want any interruptions to his game. It would sure help them all out if the UNC Tarheels would score a little more often. Thomas got up, figuring he needed to take out the garbage or Benny, his dad’s dog.
“I want you to do something and not ask any questions, do you understand?” Mom’s voice was barely audible over the sound of the stove’s fan.
“What do you mean?”
“I want you to get your sister and go out to the car, okay?”
Right there and then he knew. Something was wrong. The way his mother looked and sounded today seemed different. The bruise above her lips was still swollen, but that wasn’t anything new. It was the look in her eyes, a look he’d never seen before.
“Where are we going?”
“Get Sara and take her to the car right now.”
He nodded. The smell of the sweet potatoes and the ham and the fresh biscuits and the macaroni pie all made his mouth water. But fear made his hunger go quiver in a corner.
Thomas wanted to ask his mother but he knew. The knowing part of him whispered for his mouth to stay shut and for his legs to start moving.
Getting Sara would be easy. In fact, doing anything now would be easy except taking Dad’s can of Coors Light away from him or turning off his game.
He was able to get his sister’s attention without a problem. She looked up when he came into the living room. She was eleven but she tried to act older. For a moment he mouthed that she needed to come, signaling for her to follow him. The game no longer interested him. All he could think about was his mother’s request.
“What do you think you’re doing?” his father asked.
Thomas hadn’t seen his father looking at him. Usually by now, about three-fourths of the way into the basketball game, he was in a semicoma that would only to be broken by another trip to the fridge.
“Every time you wave your arms Benny thinks you’re playing with him. So knock it off. Unless you’re going to take him outside for a walk.”
Sara didn’t need an explanation to follow into the other room. Dad’s tone was enough. Once inside the kitchen, Thomas guided her toward the back door.
“We need to go,” he said outside.
“Where’s that? I’m hungry.” They walked quickly out the door and to the car.
The first thing Thomas thought of as he climbed into the musty-smelling Nissan was his bike.
The bike that he and Mom had finally saved up enough to buy, a used and recycled mountain bike that they’d spent a hundred and fifty bucks on. A bike that when new would have cost over a thousand. A bike that had seen better days but still had some life in it.
Maybe not much of a life after all.
Thomas thought about what to do about the bike. It was getting rusty and the paint was chipped but he still loved it. Maybe he could ride it and follow behind the car. Or maybe they could fit it in the fifteen-year-old Maxima.
They waited in the car for ten minutes. Ten whole minutes. He sat in the front seat looking at the small house with the wild shrubs growing unevenly around it and the rusted-out white truck that couldn’t fit all of them in the front seat.
“What are we doing?” Sara kept asking.
“We’re waiting for Mom.”
“Where are we going?”
Mom had told them—no, she’d promised them—that they would be getting a special Christmas present today. Just the two kids. She had said she would give it to them during the day, that it was going to be a surprise, that they couldn’t mention it to Dad. This is her present, Thomas thought as he waited and worried that the next one out of the house would be the man with the glassy eyes and the tightened jaw. His hands felt sweaty as he rubbed them and tried to act like he wasn’t nervous in front of his sister.
Maybe she planned on leaving later. Maybe the fight they had when she started cooking dinner convinced her to go now.
The door opened and Thomas stopped breathing.
It was Mom.
All she carried was her purse. Maybe she had already packed a few things, but he didn’t see anything in the backseat.
How do I ask her about my bike?
As she climbed into the car, Thomas could see the fear on her face and in the way she moved. Before starting up the car, she turned to face both of them.
“You two, listen to me. We’re leaving and we’re not coming back, and I’ll explain why. But for now we have to go. Do you understand me?”
Sara began asking questions, but it was Thomas who told her to be quiet, not Mom.
He didn’t need to be told why.
He didn’t need to ask about his bike either.
The car left without hesitation.
Thomas and Sara had received the best gift ever: freedom.
The question was whether it would still be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
And whether the man inside the house they were leaving would find them and reclaim them as his own.
© 2011 Jimmy Wayne Barber
What People are Saying About This
“Paper Angels reveals the inner beauty of the human soul and reminds us all that it’s what we give away not what we receive that is of value and creates impact…The individual characters within this novel are poignantly portrayed in such a way that you feel you are living each experience as they unfold…Our lives are busy with to-do lists, dreams to follow, hurdles to overcome, and expectations to live up to. This book tenderly encourages us to slow down and treasure the special moments and people around us regardless of our circumstances. It allows us to see life through the eyes of those who at one time were us or at any point could be…this is an amazing read that will bring tears to your eyes.”
“Jimmy Wayne has used his God-given talent for songwriting to craft Paper Angels, an inspired and beautifully written timeless story that will bless you and encourage you to make a difference. Like other classic tales of Christmas, this one should be read year after year as a reminder why we celebrate and give.”
“Paper Angels is a heartfelt Christmas tale about finding kindness amid consumerism, highlighting the historic Salvation Army Angel Tree Program. But it’s so much more than that too: it’s a story of brokenness and redemption, of forgiveness and second chances, of empathy and integrity and repaying evil with good. Travis Thrasher and Jimmy Wayne have crafted three-dimensional and true-to-life characters and woven their storylines together seamlessly. The result is an inspirational masterpiece set to challenge minds and move hearts.”
“Jimmy Wayne has taken the pathos, poignancy, heart, and storytelling abilities that infuse his music and translated them into a novel that will inspire all those who read it to take the first step toward making a difference.”
“Paper Angels captures the true essence of The Salvation Army Angel Tree program and the true spirit of Christmas which is sharing and caring. I am pleased to recommend it to everyone as an inspirational story, for parents to not only share with their children but also to create a Christmas tradition for years to come.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Paper Angels includes a Q&A with author Jimmy Wayne. We hope that this conversation will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A Conversation with Jimmy Wayne
You have enjoyed success as a country musician and philanthropist. What inspired you to write a novel?
I wanted to write a book about paper angels, because I was a recipient of the angel tree program when I was a kid. I wanted to pay it forward and also raise awareness of how important it is that every child be taken care of during Christmas. Hopefully this book will inspire people to go a step further and continue helping these kids not only during Christmas but year-round
Could you describe your unique upbringing for some of the readers who may not be familiar with your background?
I spent the majority of my childhood in and out of foster care. My experiences parallel and/or pale in the light of so many people who grew up the same way. I receive those experiences as gifts. I'm thankful I can use those experiences to help others.
When the idea for Paper Angels first came to you, what writers and books did you turn to for guidance? How was your experience working with Travis Thrasher?
When Paper Angels came to me I didn't necessarily turn to any other books for reference or inspiration. I relied completely on my personal experience and my imagination just like I do when I'm songwriting. Collaborating with Travis Thrasher was a great experience. On Jan 7, 2010 we had our first conversation via telephone. Over the next eight to nine months we shared many ideas and eventually wrote a beautiful book. Travis is a brilliant and underrated author.
Thomas and his sister Sara experience the trauma of escaping their alcoholic father. They will live with the fear of "whether the man inside the house they were leaving would find them and reclaim them as his own." (p. 7) What personal experiences led you to this poignant observation?
Alcohol abuse was a part of growing up. I've seen the effects firsthand: what it can do to a family and to an individual. I simply took snapshots of my own real-life experiences and applied them to this family. Actually, I was more like Sara, the one who didn't know exactly what was going on, while my sister was more like Thomas. She's always been my light.
Thomas has a revelation about his purpose in life: "He liked to believe that he was called for a special purpose. And that special purpose didn’t have to be twenty years in the future. It might be twenty minutes away. One never knew."(p. 55) Did you have these notions about purpose when you were growing up? How have they affected your actions today?
Even as a child growing up poor and moving from foster home to foster home, there was always something inside me that said this life is temporary, I deserved better, and no one had the authority to stand in the way of my dreams, that they were my dreams.
Kevin reflects on the nature of God: "Then he imagined God’s hand, so firm and so strong. A hand that wouldn’t let him step out in front of a moving car, a hand that wasn’t going to let him bolt ahead, a hand that held him safe and secure." (p. 125) Do you share Kevin’s experience of God?
I believe that God has given us all the resources we need to survive, just like a good parent would do. It's up to us how we utilize these resources.
Kevin experiences several lapses in faith throughout the novel, especially with the stresses of his twins being born and the impending dissolution of his job. Has your own faith ever faltered in times of crisis?
There's never been a time when I didn't have faith in God. However, there've been many times when I've been disappointed in God's timing.
Are you working on another novel?
I'm always thinking ahead. Writing another book is certainly in my future.
You walked across America to raise awareness for teens who age out of foster care. Can you share a few stories about this experience and about the people you met along the way? How did you decide to take this walk? What was your favorite state to walk through?
Project Meet Me Halfway is an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of at-risk youth aging out of the foster care and becoming homeless. I hope to someday share any and all stories of my journey in a book.
How does songwriting differ from writing a novel? Do you ever classify your songs as "fiction" or "nonfiction"? Why or why not? Where is your favorite place to write?
Writing a novel versus a song is much different. A songwriter has to consolidate an entire story in three minutes. I usually write nonfiction songs. I write what I know best. My favorite place to write is in my kitchen near my coffee pot.