Cover image for Heaven
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, c1998.
Physical Description:
138 p. ; 20 cm.
Reading Level:
790 L Lexile
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.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Paperback book PB J FICTION JOH 1 1

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Angela Johnson was born on June 18, 1961 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She attended Kent State University and worked with Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) as a child development worker. She has written numerous children's books including Tell Me a Story, Mama, Shoes like Miss Alice, Looking for Red, A Cool Moonlight and Lily Brown's Paintings. She won the Coretta Scott King Author's Award three times for Toning the Sweep in 1994, for Heaven in 1999, and for The First Part Last in 2004, which also won the Michael L. Printz Award. In 2003, she was named a MacArthur fellow.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

As in her Gone from Home (reviewed above), Johnson here explores the themes of what makes a place home and which people family. Fourteen-year-old Marley's tranquil life in Heaven, Ohio, turns hellish the day her family receives a letter from Alabama. The note (from the pastor of a church that was destroyed by arson) requests a replacement for Marley's baptismal record, and reveals that "Momma" and "Pops" are really Marley's aunt and uncle, and mysterious Jack (an alleged "uncle" with whom Marley has corresponded but doesn't remember) is her true father. In this montage of Marley's changing perceptions, Johnson presents fragments of the whole picture a little at a time: images of people, places (the Western Union building "1637" steps away from Marley's house) and artifacts (a box filled with love letters between her birth parents) gain significance as Marley begins to make sense of the past and integrate her perceptions into her new identity. The author's poetic metaphors describe a child grasping desperately for a hold on her reality ("It was one of those nights that started to go down before the sun did," she says of the evening the fateful letter arrives). The melding of flashbacks and present-day story line may be confusing initially, but readers who follow Marley's winding path toward revelation will be well rewarded. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Marley thinks her life in Heaven, Ohio, is perfect and secure. But when she learns that her itinerant uncle is really her father and her loving parents are her aunt and uncle, she has to come to terms with her feelings of anger, betrayal, and curiosity as to who she really is. Foreshadowing, humor, and well-defined characters work together to create a strong story about belonging and family. From HORN BOOK Spring 1999, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-10. In Humming Whispers (1995) and Gone from Home [BKL Ag 98], Johnson writes powerfully about deep family sorrow and loss. Here she writes about happiness despite sorrow, about a teenager whose life has always been heaven. Marley, 14, lives in the small Ohio town of Heaven, rooted in her loving African American family, close to good friends, and part of a caring community. Then she discovers she is adopted--Mom and Pops are really her aunt and uncle, and for a while, Heaven seems like hell. The paradise setup is too idyllic, and in the anguish of Marley's discovery and upheaval, everyone is absolutely perfectly supportive and understanding. And Marley's real dad comes home at last. 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. Marley baby-sits for a devoted single-parent dad. The owner of the general store is like a mother to the neighborhood. In fact, the most troubled family is the "perfect" nuclear one of Marley's best friend, who needs as much support as Marley does. On the news, they hear about people burning churches, but Johnson makes us see the power of loving kindness. --Hazel Rochman

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-What makes a person who she is? Is it her name, the people she lives with, or is blood the only link to identity? Marley, 14, suddenly plunges head first into these complex questions when she discovers that the people she's been living with her entire life aren't her real parents. Butchy is not her real brother, and her mysterious Uncle Jack, who has been writing her short but beautiful letters for as long as she can remember, turns out to be her real, very absent father. In spare, often poetic prose reminiscent of Patricia MacLachlan's work, Johnson relates Marley's insightful quest into what makes a family. Her extreme anger with her supposed parents, who turn out to be her aunt and uncle, for not telling her the truth, for not being the perfect family that she'd always thought them to be, wars with her knowledge that not even her friend Shoogy Maple's model family is as perfect and beautiful as it seems. 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.-Linda Bindner, formerly at Athens Clarke County Library, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

After spending most of her life in bucolic Heaven, Ohio, a teenager finds her certainties come tumbling down. Marley Carroll likes her family, has two steady friends, and a wandering uncle, Jack, who sends her poetic letters describing his travels and asking about her thoughts and dreams. Her peace is shattered by the arrival of a different sort of letter, addressed to ``Monna Floyd,'' from an Alabama deacon trying to reconstruct a burnt church's records; the people she calls Momma and Pops apologetically explain that they are actually her aunt and uncle, that Jack is her father, and that her mother died in an auto accident when she was very young. Devastated, cast adrift, Marley searches for her parents in a small box of mementos, and in early memories, meanwhile struggling, in light of her new knowledge, to redefine her other relationships. Ultimately, in her friends' situations as in her own, Marley finds clear evidence that love, more than blood, makes a family. Johnson (see review, above) uses the present tense to give her ruminative, sparely told story a sense of immediacy, creates a varied, likeable supporting cast and, without explicitly addressing every loose end, communicates a clear sense that MarleyŽand Jack, still working through his griefŽare going to be all right. (Fiction. 11-13)



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 Excerpted from Heaven by Angela Johnson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.