Title: Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall
Author: Wendy Mass
Little & Brown, 2007
Genre: Hmm....Realistic/Not fantasy..but non-realistic? What do you think?
Recommended to: Teen readers 13 and up
16-year-old Tessa has had an average life: bad times, good times, drama, highs, lows. Nothing too exciting, at least in her opinion. She's a pretty normal high-school girl, still trying to figure out what the question (Who are you?) on her college application forms means. She knows she's not too thin and not too pretty, and she doesn't really have any self-esteem, but knows that's not really the answer. But then what is?
But all of that's about to change when she is knocked into a dangerous coma when she is involved in an accident in PE and finds herself in "heaven", a place that looks creepily like her local mall back home. There, she revisits her past up until when she was knocked out playing dodgeball. She remembers times she's made mistakes and bad decisions, reencounters times she'd rather forget, goes back to things she wishes she could change, and ends up learning a lot about why life is worth living, and who she really is deep down.
Wow. Don't let the fluffy cover or the sugary-sweet chick lit-like title throw you off. This book is deep, a totally touching and memorable story. I loved how the author shows you Tessa's self-development and how her actions just made her totally human. Tessa has made some bad choices and some major mistakes, and has learned the hard way. For me, this just made her character so much deeper and more realistic. I loved hearing her first-person thoughts, as well. I enjoyed how Wendy transitioned from the baby to child to teenager stories/memories because you could tell that Tessa was getting older and more mature: her thoughts were more complex and she faced bigger issues. At some points, I just wanted to cry for her. She didn't have a terrible easy home life (her mom put lots of pressure on her), and she really did face some ego problems inside. I found her to be a bland character at first, but by the end I knew why: she was insecure, trying to impress everyone else but not being herself.
I also liked the poetic format that made the book more well, poetic and flowing. Parts of the novel to be a bit cheesy, and the ending seemed a little bit too perfect for me, but maybe everything seemed a whole lot more sunnier at the end because Tessa finally realized who she really was. Some of the transitions were a bit jerky and random, but overall I was impressed by how beautiful the novel was. I was practically in tears at the moving ending because I felt like Tessa was a real person who had finally discovered that she didn't have to impress anyone but herself, and that made me happy. All in all, it actually kind of reminded me of Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere.
Overall, I recommend this novel to most teens. I really enjoyed Tessa's unique voice and the beautiful writing!
Oh-- and which cover do you prefer? Paperback (gumball machine) or hardcover?