Reviews for Heaven


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 September 1998
Gr. 6^-10. In Humming Whispers (1995) and Gone from Home , Johnson writes powerfully about deep family sorrow and loss. Here she writes about happiness despite sorrow, about a teenager whose life has always been heaven. Marley, 14, lives in the small Ohio town of Heaven, rooted in her loving African American family, close to good friends, and part of a caring community. Then she discovers she is adopted--Mom and Pops are really her aunt and uncle, and for a while, Heaven seems like hell. The paradise setup is too idyllic, and in the anguish of Marley's discovery and upheaval, everyone is absolutely perfectly supportive and understanding. And Marley's real dad comes home at last. What saves this from being generic Hallmark is Johnson's plain, lyrical writing about the people in Marley's life. Everyone has secrets. There are all kinds of loving families. Marley baby-sits for a devoted single-parent dad. The owner of the general store is like a mother to the neighborhood. In fact, the most troubled family is the "perfect" nuclear one of Marley's best friend, who needs as much support as Marley does. On the news, they hear about people burning churches, but Johnson makes us see the power of loving kindness. ((Reviewed September 15, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 1999
Marley thinks her life in Heaven, Ohio, is perfect and secure. But when she learns that her itinerant uncle is really her father and her loving ""parents"" are her aunt and uncle, she has to come to terms with her feelings of anger, betrayal, and curiosity as to who she really is. Foreshadowing, humor, and well-defined characters work together to create a strong story about belonging and family. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1998 July #2
After spending most of her life in bucolic Heaven, Ohio, a teenager finds her certainties come tumbling down. Marley Carroll likes her family, has two steady friends, and a wandering uncle, Jack, who sends her poetic letters describing his travels and asking about her thoughts and dreams. Her peace is shattered by the arrival of a different sort of letter, addressed to ``Monna Floyd,'' from an Alabama deacon trying to reconstruct a burnt church's records; the people she calls Momma and Pops apologetically explain that they are actually her aunt and uncle, that Jack is her father, and that her mother died in an auto accident when she was very young. Devastated, cast adrift, Marley searches for her parents in a small box of mementos, and in early memories, meanwhile struggling, in light of her new knowledge, to redefine her other relationships. Ultimately, in her friends' situations as in her own, Marley finds clear evidence that love, more than blood, makes a family. Johnson (see review, above) uses the present tense to give her ruminative, sparely told story a sense of immediacy, creates a varied, likeable supporting cast and, without explicitly addressing every loose end, communicates a clear sense that Marley and Jack, still working through his grief are going to be all right. (Fiction. 11-13) Copyright 1998 Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1998 October
Gr 6-9-What makes a person who she is? Is it her name, the people she lives with, or is blood the only link to identity? Marley, 14, suddenly plunges head first into these complex questions when she discovers that the people she's been living with her entire life aren't her real parents. Butchy is not her real brother, and her mysterious Uncle Jack, who has been writing her short but beautiful letters for as long as she can remember, turns out to be her real, very absent father. In spare, often poetic prose reminiscent of Patricia MacLachlan's work, Johnson relates Marley's insightful quest into what makes a family. Her extreme anger with her supposed parents, who turn out to be her aunt and uncle, for not telling her the truth, for not being the perfect family that she'd always thought them to be, wars with her knowledge that not even her friend Shoogy Maple's model family is as perfect and beautiful as it seems. The various examples of "family" Marley encounters make her question what's real, what's true, what makes sense, and if any of that really matters as much as the love she continues to feel for her parents in spite of their seeming betrayal. Johnson exhibits admirable stylistic control over Marley's struggle to understand a concept that is often impossible to understand or even to define.-Linda Bindner, formerly at Athens Clarke County Library, GA Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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VOYA Reviews 1999 February
One of my favorite stories in the But That's Another Story (Walker, 1996/VOYA August 1996) anthology is Johnson's Flying Away, so I anticipated a good read when I opened this slim volume. Johnson's ability to shape, hide, and disclose sensitivefamily secrets does not disappoint. Readers meet contented, fourteen-year-old narrator Marley (named after Bob, not Dickens's ghost), who warmly describes Heaven, an Ohio town with a Western Union and pink flamingo, picket-fenced yards. Eventually the notion of "heaven" echoesironically as Marley's assumptions about her family prove false, her identity unraveling with the burning of Southern churches as the unlikely catalyst. "Every day it all gets more fuzzy around the edges about the people who call themselves ourfamilies," she muses, thinking also about her best friend Shoogy, a beauty contestant who self-mutilates, and Shoogy's picture-perfect parents. Italicized letters from "Uncle Jack" periodically interrupt Marley's sparse, direct narrative. Readers who sense that Jack may be more than just an uncle are still ill-prepared, as is Marley, for the revelation that her entire family situation hasbeen a prolonged charade. Fortunately, Marley realizes "I don't think I'll ever be too good at punishing people," and the appreciation of unconditional, perhaps untraditional, love prevails. Believable, unconventional characters and friendships combine with small town fondness in this tale about the search for identity-an endeavor leading to more questions than answers. When Shoogy and Marley sit atop the water tower sharing cigarettes,listening to each other with care, they illustrate that friendship is a part of that exploration.-Patti Sylvester Spencer. Copyright 1999 Voya Reviews

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