Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Review: All We Know of Heaven

All We Know of Heaven
Jacquelyn Mitchard
2008; HarperTeen; 978-0-06-134578-4 (hardback)

Summary: Bridget and Maureen have been best friends since kindergarten. They're two peas in a pod: both tiny and blonde, both cheerleaders. Yet one snowy night just before Christmas, they're driving home from cheerleading practice, when an accident happens. One girl dies. One girl lives. But there's been a horrifying mistake: the girl that everyone thought had lived . . . was the girl that died.

Four Things To Know About All We Know of Heaven

#1: "Ripped from the headlines" doesn't always equal trashy and sleazy.
Through quiet, straight-to-the-heart writing, Mitchard portrays the effects of this shocking, heart-breaking realization that sets up the rest of the novel. As Mitchard acknowledges, there have been at least two incidents in the past ten years of mistaken identity following a car accident; I immediately thought of the story of Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak. But that's just the starting point.

#2: Waking up is just the beginning.
The discovery that Bridget died in the accident, not Maureen, isn't fully made until Maureen wakes up, nearly a hundred pages into the novel. But the book doesn't really come to life until that moment, when the reader starts to follow Maureen's journey towards recovery. During this first portion of the novel, the story is about Bridget and Maureen, but especially Bridget, as she's the one everyone thinks survives. But once Maureen wakes up, the focus shifts to her, and the character that had seemed fuzzy, lost in Bridget's light, takes center stage and is totally deserving of the attention the reader pays to her.

#3: In a small town, everyone knows everyone.
Michard presents the impact of the tragedy on the small town of Bigelow, Minnesota, warts and all. From the well-meaning but belittling comments made to Maureen to the gossipy grapevine, Bigelow is seen as your typical small town. Yet this book shows that in every small town, there are truths that can't be faced and questions that won't be asked openly. And even in a small town, where "everyone knows everyone," mistaken identity can happen.

#4: Being a teenager is tough, even before you've had a brain injury.
Perhaps Maureen's recovery is a bit too close to a fairy-tale ideal. Yet even with that, she still faces huge challenges that only tangentially relate to her disabilities. Figuring out her plans for the future, dealing with her love life, making the right choices--any teenager faces these problems. Yet Maureen meets these challenges, and at the end of the book, you can't help wishing for more time with her.

A compelling, thoughtful book, All We Know of Heaven will find many fans in the Sarah Dessen set, and could be a great mother-daughter read, similar to Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper.