“I had ambition by which sin the angels fell; I climbed, and step by step, O Lord, ascended into Hell. Returning now to peace and quiet and made more wise, Let my descent and fall, O Lord, be into Paradise.” ~ W. H. Davies (Ambition)
When Terry Bachelder, of 'By That Sin Fell the Angels' by Jamie Fessenden, answers his phone at 3:00 a.m., he suspects it will be bad news but he wasn't expecting a call from Daniel, one of his students and the local preacher's son. He knows he could get into a lot of trouble by talking to Daniel because of the repercussions involved in a teacher, especially a gay teacher, talking to one of his students outside of school; but the desperation in Daniel's voice makes it impossible for Terry to hang up. He tries his best to get Daniel to tell him where he is so he can help him, but he hangs up. When Terry finds out the next day that Daniel has killed himself in his father's church, no less, he beats himself up, wracking his brain about what else he could have done, regardless of the consequences. As it turns out, this event is just the tip of the iceberg.
Everyone is shocked when Daniel commits suicide. The town sheriff zeroes in on Daniel getting Terry's number from a flyer for a gay group meeting and makes it a point to out Terry, coming dangerously close to harassing him and his friends, while accumulating circumstantial evidence that on the surface looks damning. When the town learns Daniel killed himself because he was gay, they can't believe it. Needing someone to blame for Daniel's “fall from grace”, the school board and many members of the town, especially Daniel's father, try to place the burden of guilt on Terry. Terry is not a stranger; this is his home town. He has always kept a low profile and has lived in this town most of his life, even coming back there after college to teach. Terry simply can't believe these people, who have known him for such a long time, could ever dream he could do such a despicable thing.
Jamie doesn't shy away from the difficult subjects in life. Instead, he tells the stories which need to be told. Suicide, bigotry, and hate certainly qualify. Daniel, which means “God is my judge”, was an excellent name for someone who used the same phrase in his final cry for help. No one saw Daniel's pain and confusion, not even his own father, whose religious conviction were seemingly more important than his son's well-being. Far too frequently, the facts needed to avoid such a tragedy come too late to prevent it. If you appreciate stories with strong but flawed characters, needless tragedy, hard lessons learned, forgiveness, and redemption, you may want to read this book. Thanks, Jamie, for this compelling, thought-provoking story and, by the way, you owe me a box of tissues.