Johnson, Angela. Heaven. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689822294.
Fourteen-year-old Marley lives in Heaven, Ohio with Momma, Pop, and her younger brother, Butchy. Marley has never met Uncle Jack, who spends all of his time on the road with his dog, Boy. She frequently wires him money, and has gotten to know him through the letters they write each other. Marley's life changes when Momma and Pop tell her that they are not her real parents. Uncle Jack is really her father and her mother died when she was very young. Marley becomes angry with her family and struggles to accept her true identity.
Heaven is an endearing story that readers can easily connect with. The theme of family is universal, and readers can understand the anguish that Marley feels after learning the truth about her real parents. There are not many cultural markers, so the focus is on Marley and the ties she has with family and friends. Most everything that occurs in the story could have taken place in any setting and with characters of other cultures.
Another common theme in Heaven is that every family has its secrets. Marley at first thinks that her friend Shoogy's family seems perfect. Marley learns that Shoogy has fought against this view of perfection and is deeply troubled by something since she has cut herself badly in the past. In the end Marley says she thinks Shoogy's family is crazy. Marley also wonders about the family she babysits for. Bobby lives alone with his daughter Feather. Marley learns that they still have family in Brooklyn, but she does not know what happened to Feather's mom.
African American culture is never specifically identified. There is a picture on the front cover of an African American girl, but within the story Marley's culture is not very apparent. The cultural markers that are present are physical attributes, religious practices, and musical preferences. The physical attributes stated in the book refer to Bobby and Feather. Feather is described as "tiny with wispy hair and caramel skin." In another passage readers learn that Bobby has dreads.
Religion is never really mentioned either, but Marley and Pop used to attend one of the churches that was burned down in the South. The loss of Marley's records in the church fire is what leads to Momma and Pop telling Marley about her true identity. Pop makes a reference to past problems in the South when he says that the church burnings remind him of the 60s.
Music is mentioned more often and readers get a feeling for its importance. Marley was named after Bob Marley and she remembers dancing to his music with Pop when she was young. When Marley is in the car with Pop he puts in a jazz tape. Marley does not know the name of the song and Pop responds, "Miles Davis. Nobody like him, Marley. Nobody ever will be...."
"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." -School Library Journal
"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." -Booklist
Share other young adult books written by Angela Johnson.
First Part Last
Looking for Red
Running Back to Ludie
Toning the Sweep
Share other young adult books that have an adoption theme.
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez
Get Real by Betty Hicks
The Snake-Stone by Berlie Doherty