Heaven (Heaven Trilogy Series #1)

Heaven (Heaven Trilogy Series #1)

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You never know what's gonna come down — in Heaven.
At fourteen, Marley knows she has Momma's hands and Pops's love for ice cream, that her brother doesn't get on her nerves too much, and that Uncle Jack is a big mystery. But Marley doesn't know all she thinks she does, because she doesn't know the truth. And when the truth comes down with the rain one stormy summer afternoon, it changes everything. It turns Momma and Pops into liars. It makes her brother a stranger and Uncle Jack an even bigger mystery.
All of a sudden, Marley doesn't know who she is anymore and can only turn to the family she no longer trusts to find out.
Truth often brings change. Sometimes that change is for the good. Sometimes it isn't. Coretta Scott King award-winning author Angela Johnson writes a poignant novel of deception and self-discovery — about finding the truth and knowing what to do when truth is at hand.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402519697
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 03/28/2011
Series: Angela Johnson's Heaven Trilogy Series , #1
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Angela Johnson has won three Coretta Scott King Awards, one each for her novels The First Part Last, Heaven, and Toning the Sweep. The First Part Last was also the recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award. She is also the author of the novels Looking for Red and A Certain October. Her books for younger readers include the Coretta Scott King Honor Book When I Am Old with You, illustrated by David Soman; Wind Flyers and I Dream of Trains, both illustrated by Loren Long; and Lottie Paris Lives Here and its sequel Lottie Paris and the Best Place, both illustrated by Scott M. Fischer. Additional picture books include A Sweet Smell of Roses, Just Like Josh Gibson, The Day Ray Got Away, and All Different Now. In recognition of her outstanding talent, Angela was named a 2003 MacArthur Fellow. She lives in Kent, Ohio. Visit her at AJohnsonAuthor.com.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Heaven

In Heaven there are 1,637 steps from my house to the Western Union. You have to walk by a playground and four stores — two clothing, one food, and one hardware coffee shop. After you pass those stores, you cross one street and hop over a deadly looking grate. (I once heard about a man who got struck by lightning while standing on one.) Ten steps past the grate is Ma's Superette.

(If you can't find it at Ma's...she even sells live bait on the side.)

Ma's Superette is open 23 1/2 hours a day. Ma closes it from 4:10 A.M. to 4:40 A.M. every morning. She uses the half hour to pray. At least that's what she says she uses it for. When I said differently one day Pops said I was skeptical and not spiritual at all.

That made me mad 'cause hadn't I put all my allowance in the Salvation Army kettle last winter? Sometimes Pops just doesn't get it. He even said a while ago that because I was just fourteen I didn't understand about life, but I wasn't about to hear that. Sometimes he gets so mad at me, he just shakes his head and mumbles that I'm just like Uncle Jack. Then he tosses the thought away I guess and smiles at me, every time.

Anyway, Ma's was the place you could get nachos and nail polish, Levi's when you needed them, and flip-flops for the summer. I'd already gone through two pair and it's only the middle of June.

Heaven might sound pretty boring to most people, but before I really understood about all my years at the Western Union, it was fine for a girl like me.

I don't get sent to Ma's for bread and milk like most kids, but to wire money. I've been doing it ever since I've been allowed to leave the yard by myself. It's something I thought most kids did. It's something I found out a little further down the road that made me different from every other kid in Heaven.

Copyright © 1998 by Angela Johnson

Reading Group Guide

About the book
What happens when you discover that you aren't who you always thought you were? In this lyrical novel, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, fourteen-year-old Marley lives in a small Ohio town called Heaven. For Marley, it is nearly a paradise. She has parents who love her, friends who support her, and even a mysterious uncle who sends her the most wonderful notes. But her life is upended one day when a letter arrives from a little church in Alabama. Suddenly, in Marley's eyes anyway, Momma and Pops are liars, wandering Uncle Jack is a greater mystery than ever, and Marley is desperate to make sense of what it means to be a family. Sparely written and achingly felt, this richly acclaimed novel, as Booklist observes, "Makes us see the power of loving kindness."
Discussion Questions

  • Marley lives in the town of Heaven, Ohio. What is heavenly about the place? What isn't? What mood does the author establish by choosing Heaven as the name for Marley's hometown and as the title for this novel? Would you want to live in Heaven, Ohio? Why or why not?
  • Explore the character of Jack, the man Marley thought was her uncle. Why do you think he drifts around the country? Why does he always name his dogs "Boy"? What are his hopes? What are his fears?
  • Unlike Jack, Bobby is raising his child by himself. Do you think he made a more responsible decision than Jack? Why or why not?
  • Marley doesn't ask her friends about their past. "The past," she says, "doesn't always make sense of the present." What does she mean by that? Do you agree that it's true for all the characters in this novel? For example, does Jack's past help explain his present way of life?
  • This novel begins with the story of a dream, and many other dreams are described during its course. Discuss the importance of dreams in Heaven. What do they reveal about the dreamers? How do they shape the tone of this novel?
  • "Maybe the one big lie makes everything a lie," Marley says to Pops. Do you agree? If someone lies to you, can you ever believe him or her again? Are all lies bad? Should some be forgiven?
  • How does Marley's understanding of the Maple family change over time? Why do you think Shoogy dislikes her family so much? Why does she cut herself? What is behind Mrs. Maple's seemingly perfect facade?
  • Marley is furious at Momma and Pops for waiting until she was fourteen years old to tell her the truth about her birth. Is her anger justified? Should she have been told earlier? Why or why not?
  • How do Momma and Pops respond to Marley's anger? Why do they give her the "Baby Mond" box? How does Butchy react to the news? What does he mean when he says to her, "We'll always be who we were to each other."
  • What makes a real family? Marley struggles with this question throughout the novel. Does she find an answer for herself? If so, what is it? What do you think makes a real family?

Activities and Projects
  • Inspired by Jack's poetic notes to Marley, write a letter to a far-off relative. Describe yourself, your home, and your friends. Tell him or her about important books in your life. Share your plans for the future.
  • Heaven is set in the summer of 1996, when a large number of black churches in the South were burned down. These tragedies remind Momma and Pops of the early 1960s. Why? Research this critical period in the civil rights movement. Why were black churches at risk back then? Who was attacking them?
  • "It's like that six degrees of separation thing," Marley thinks, when an intriguing letter from Alabama arrives just after she sees news reports of church burnings in the state, "everybody is closer than they think to everybody else." Play your own game of "six degrees of separation." Build a chain of personal connections that link you to notable people or distant places.
  • Marley was named in honor of the late Jamaican singer Bob Marley. Listen to recordings of his music. Read about his life and learn about his lasting influence. Why do you think Marley is pleased to share his name?

About the author
Angela Johnson lives in Kent, Ohio. She is the author of many acclaimed picture books, novels, and poetry collections, among them Toning the Sweep, winner of the 1994 Coretta Scott King Award, and When I Am Old with You and The Other Side: Shorter Poems, both Coretta Scott King Honor Books.

Customer Reviews

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Heaven 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
owensmj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fourteen year-old Marley's happy life is shattered when she discovers that her uncle is actually her father. She struggles to accept this revelation, and gradually begins to understand and trust her adoptive parents again.Marley's present-tense narration really helps the reader sympathize with her and feel something of the pain she experiences, like when she is basically in shock immediately after finding out the truth about her parentage.
crimson_idealist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Marley thought she knew her family until a secret about her past comes to light.Evaluation: This story moved rather slowly and took place mostly in Marley's head. The reader sees how Marley deals with learning the secret and learning all about family. It's very well-written, but it does move slowly.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When 12 year old Marley discovers that she is adopted, her perception of who she is and the parents who raised her is turned upside down.Learning that her uncle is her biological father, she struggles to define truth.This book is well written and the characters are all very likeable. As a parent of an adopted daughter I didn't feel the issues were depicted as in depth as they should/could have been.Edit | More
joannachilders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Angela Johnson's concise, poetic narrative gives weight to Marley's search for her identity. When she finds out that the parents she has always known are actually her aunt and uncle, Marley struggles to come to terms with whether her birth parents or the parents that raised her shaped her identity more. As Marley matures, she begins to see that it is ok to love and be loved by both her Momma and Daddy and her Uncle Jack (her absentee biological father)- "I love the people who raised me by that river and...I love the man who finally came back to tell me the stories I needed to hear from so long ago." Marley's story is short, poignant, and beautiful.
amcguinn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marley learns the truth about her "parents" one summer afternoon. Marely discovers that she is adopted and she feels like the world she has known has been a lie. Can she trust these people any longer? What about Uncle Jack? Who is he really? Johnson's characters come to life and make the story seem real. This story teaches the reader that those who love us sometimes lie to protect us from the truth. Marley discovers that she hasn't lost her parents, but has gained new information that helps her understand who she is. Awards and Honors: Coretta Scott King
kairstream on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marley finds out she's adopted and her whole life turns upside down. Nothing seems right. But, in the end she finds that love is the most important thing. No drugs, violence or race.
ERMSMediaCenter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fourteen-year-old Marley's seemingly perfect life in the small town of Heaven is disrupted when she discovers that her father and mother are not her real parents.
jnfalvey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marley (named after Bob Marley) has lived in Heaven, OH since she was two years old, and everything has been--heavenly. The only difference between her and the other kids she knows is that she makes weekly trips to Ma's Superette to send money to her Uncle Jack via Western Union. Uncle Jack writes letters to her regularly, telling all about his travels. She also has a best friend, Shoogy Maple, who has a strangely perfect family, and she loves to babysit baby Feather while her friend Bobby paints. One day Marley's world shifts suddenly, however, when she learns that she is actually her Uncle Jack's daughter, and that the people she thought were her parents are actually her aunt and uncle. her name isn't even Marley--it's Monna. Marley struggles to come to grips with this new information, even as Uncle Jack decides it's time to come home and meet Marley.This was a disappointing book. Marley remained a mostly flat character, and her cadre of friends seem like standard characters trotted out according to a formula: the troubled friend from the too-perfect family; the mysterious Uncle who writes loving letters to a niece he's supposedly never met; the lonely, sensitive artist with the darling child he adores. The letter which precipitates Marley's knowledge about her birth seems contrived, and her reaction to it somehow doesn't ring true. Part of the problem may be that the book just moves too quickly. At only 138 (small) pages, events seem to move too quickly to really get to know Marley and understand why this betrayal is so significant for her. Though it makes sense that she would be confused and hurt, and young readers will be able to identify with those feelings, she is never developed enough to completely engage the reader, and in the end the story just seems a bit trite. "Even though some of the stories will hurt my heart and sometimes make me afraid of losing more of what I have; I want her to know that it's been a fine life, for a girl like me, in Heaven."
LindaLundeen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marley lives in Heaven, Ohio with her mom, dad, and brother Butchy. She gets occasional letters from her dad's twin brother, Jack and her best friend in Shoogy Maple whose family is perfect. Fourteen year-old Marley's world is perfect until one day when she learns a family secret. Johnson tells the story, Heaven, in first person through Marley the main character. The author hooks you from the very beginning of the story because you want to know about a town named Heaven and just why Uncle Jack is writing letters to Marley. It is a letter from Deacon James David Major concerning the burning of the Our First Mission Church in Alabama and how the records in that church were destroyed and how it affects Marley and her family.Johnson does a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life and giving the reader people that they can relate with. You want to know about the relationship between Marley and Uncle Jack, who has not seen her since her birth. Why do Marley's parent's send Uncle Jack money through Western Union? I believe that this story will appeal to teenage readers between the ages of 12 to 14 and they will appreciate the theme of the story which is that it is the family that loves and surrounds you everyday who let you know you are loved.Heaven is a Coretta Scott King Award winner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ths is a really good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like Angela Johnson books
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. It did start out slow, but i think that the story really does become interesting. It makes you stop and wonder what she must be going through.
Guest More than 1 year ago
the book is slow if you need a book full of non stop action this book is not for you but i liked it.It is a relaxing read and shows you no matter how bad your situation is there is someone in a worse one (like Marley)
Guest More than 1 year ago
it was a cool story true that!! because of how her life ended up turning out to be a livin hell because they had been lying to her for such a long time
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about an African American girl who finds out that the people she calls her mom, dad and brother aren't really her family. She is giong through difficult times trying to put the pieces of her life back together. I thought this was a great book and everyone should read it. If you are feeling down this is the book for you. It's not so long and just goes on about boring stuff like many other books. This is how book are suppose to be written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this was one of the most wonderful books i have ever read it intruduces you to life in heaven and what people are like and how they are. i would recomend it to all people no matter what age. it was truly out standing. there are several different people in heaven that are expressing there selves and i just cant say enought that it was such a wonderful book. i am just 11 years old and there were some confusing parts in it but i will understand that once i get older but otherwise i read it and never wanted to stop. i already gave it to all of my friends that want to read it and they all love it too. i cant say it enough that i wish i could tell everyone how great of a book this is you can get it at about any store that sells books and my copy of it only cost 54cents at valueland but it is only 12.00 here so you could get it about any where well i truly mean this so thank you so much for listening and hopefully reading this wonderfull book thanks truly your friend blaire smile and READ THIS BOOK YOU WILL LOVE IT!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
it was an ok book..not that interesting..it also gets confusing and as the chapters change it dosent stay same..okward writing...the moral was good but overall writing was ok
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book takes a lot of time to read. It has tooken me anout two monthes to read. Other than the time that it took to read, it was a great book. I would recommend this book to anyone with a high reading level, that reads fast, or has a lot of extra time. (Which is just about no one anymore!!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
aLL i could say about this book is to read it! its not that long, but it's reaLLy a gReAT rEad!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Heaven was a great book. A beautiful story about growing up thinking you know who you are but knowing nothing but then finding out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While reading this book, I tried to remember that this is a juvenile book. As I read along I found myself thinking that the book kept slowly moving along. As kept remembering to keep thinking from a juvenile point of view, I thought that this book would be excellent for children who are struggling with identity problems or who are jealous or skeptical of traditional families. Looking at an entire juvenile audience for reading this book, I feel that this book would not be one that I would highly recommend for there are many more good books to read before choosing this one. This book would be a great book to try and get children to understand that families are about the people you spend your life with--the people that support and look out for your welfare. This book also shows juveniles that a 'traditional' family is not always the best family. This is shown with secondary character Shoogy, who has what the primary character Marley thinks is the perfect family. Even though shoogy's family looks perfect, Shoogy physically hurts herself because she is unhappy with her families perceived 'perfectness.' Marley struggles with trying to understand why Shoogy is unhappy with her family. She sees that Shoogy has her biological parents, while she has an aunt and uncle that has lied to her for years about who her 'real' parents are. This book does not have a traditional climax, so it leaves the reader thinking 'where is the excitement.' Heaven is a book that relies on deep personal thought. So I would only recommend this book to people who enjoy thinking about the quality of their life and how they would qualify and quantify their life. Overall, I would rate this book as okay, but not great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This Coming-of-age novel was didactic at times, but I found it fairly entertaining. Marley Carroll and her best friend Shoogy were quite comical and I can relate to them in many ways. I can understand why Marley was upset when her life was suddenly changed because she was told she was adopted. This book really helped me evaluate my own life. This book's title fits its high caliber!