In advance of the theatrical release of Heaven is for Real, I wanted to read the book (as is my norm). I went into it with no preconceptions and I took to reading it both from an entertainment and from a critical perspective. Thus, I want to share my “review” of this book in honor of Holy Week.
First off, I look at writing from four (4) areas: 1) movement; 2) meaning; 3) rhythm; and, 4) sound. Each area encompasses aspects of traditional approaches to writing. For example, movement is the characterization, story arc, time, and place; rhythm is the grammar/language use, and sound is the tone and style of the work.
To start: I think the “movement” perspective is where the book shows its weak spots. For me, the best parts of the book featured Colton’s experience; even if he didn’t have a spiritual experience, the horror of his developing sickness and confusion from the medical establishment would have made a great story. Colton is one tough and resilient kid and that he was able to play with friends within a month after his harrowing ordeal shows strength that few adults can muster. When his experience is coupled with the heaven visit, the story moves and flows nicely and does provide hope of an afterlife.
However, there are two things about the movement of the story that I couldn’t resolve: 1) The story is told from the father’s point of view. He spends a good amount of the book recounting and somehow associating his own trials and tribulations with Colton’s experience. There’s even a chapter called “Pastor Job” as if somehow Colton’s experience was part of his father’s. To me, they had nothing to do with each other and I didn’t particularly need to know about his broken leg or kidney stones. Colton’s father took the opportunity for his own catharsis and I found it unfair towards both Colton’s experience and to me, the reader. 2) I did not appreciate the religiousness of the story, also from the father’s point of view. Colton provided a rich experience with heaven that his father took and used as his own. There was very little in the book that showed and doubt or skepticism from anyone; Colton’s father just related scripture to Colton’s experience and used the opportunity to make the whole ordeal something from which the father could gain. Since he’s a Pastor (and a business owner), Colton seemed to become a platform rather than a blessed and courageous little boy. I highly suspect that people would have doubted Colton and challenged his story. Apparently, though, no one did.
The meaning of Heaven is for Real is in the title; really, anyone who’s seen the trailer knows what the story is about and what we’re supposed to take away from the story. I did enjoy the rhythm and sound of the book; it was as though I was talking with Colton’s father in my living room. The whole book took about three (3) hours to read and I think that’s a testament to the ease of the story-telling (coupled with my constant hope that the Father would get back to Colton).
Overall, I’d give the book three (3) out of five (5) stars. I really enjoyed the book and I believe Colton experienced Heaven and recounted it as accurately as a child could. However, I did not enjoy the Father’s constant selfish interjections; they didn’t move the story forward. I hope the movie is better.