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Heaven #1


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Marley has lived in Heaven since she was two years old, when her mother found a postcard postmarked HEAVEN, OH on a park bench and decided that was where she wanted to raise her family.
And for twelve years, Marley's hometown has lived up to its name. She lives in a house by the river, has loving parents, a funny younger brother, good friends, and receives frequent letters from her mysterious Uncle Jack. Then one day a letter arrives from Alabama, and Marley's life is turned upside down. Marley doesn't even know who she is anymore -- but where can she go for answers, when she's been deceived by the very people she should be able to trust the most?

144 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Angela Johnson

153 books248 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Angela Johnson is the author of the Coretta Scott King Honor picture book When I Am Old with You; as well as A Sweet Smell of Roses, illustrated by Eric Velasquez; Just Like Josh Gibson, illustrated by Beth Peck; and I Dream of Trains, which was also illustrated by Loren Long. She has won three Coretta Scott King Awards, one each for her novels Heaven, Toning the Sweep, and The First Part Last. In recognition of her outstanding talent, Angela was named a 2003 MacArthur Fellow. She lives in Kent, Ohio.

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5 stars
649 (25%)
4 stars
717 (28%)
3 stars
760 (30%)
2 stars
261 (10%)
1 star
130 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 256 reviews
Profile Image for Erica.
1,331 reviews436 followers
August 19, 2009
I expected a lot more from this book.
Having been in a situation similar to Marley's, I felt I'd be able to really appreciate and understand the story.
Also, I like Angela Johnson's writing and the book got a Coretta Scott King award.
Sadly, I wasn't impressed by this particular story.
I remember what it had felt like to find out my parents weren't who I'd thought. It's a really big thing to take on as a young person and there's a lot of reconfiguration of life, beliefs and...well, everything. I didn't feel Marley's character adequately portrayed the inner turmoil that shakes a girl up when she finds out she's not who she thought. Granted, some of that did come through, but it felt quick and painless, almost glossed-over.
I expected to learn more about her relationship with Sugar, about Sugar's relationship with her family, about Feather's mother. I just wanted there to be more and it seemed too pat, too sweet, too dream-like, where everything's pretty and nothing means anything.
Profile Image for Gracie.
12 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2013
By: Angela Johnson
Report by: Gracie S.
Q1 #4

Overall main character: Marley

Supporting characters: Uncle Jack, Momma, Poppa, and Butchy
Butchy- Main Characters younger brother,

Protagonist: Marley

Antagonist: Uncle jack

Setting: Heaven, OH


Marley the main character in the book “Heaven” has always had an easy life you could say. She has a securing, nice lovable family in Heaven, OH, where she lived with momma, Pops and her brother Butchy. Marley has an uncle Jack who she receives and writes letters back to all the time. Marley had always been writing letters and receiving letters from Uncle Jack, but one day a letter came, a letter unlike any others. The letter turned her smile upside down and her life in a completely new direction. The letter from uncle jack said that he was her real father, her mother had died in a car crash, and the people that are so called “Momma and Pops” aren’t really her real parents. I know I wouldn’t be happy if someone else told I that they have been hiding it from me all along that my uncle is my ACTUAL dad. So either was she, Marley had a hard time wrapping her mind around all the lies, and the life she was meant to live. She doesnt know where she belongs in the world after a life-changing event like that. But after all those lies should she even believe that? After knowing a summary what happened in the start of the book don’t you want to know the rest of the book of how she deals with an extremely dramatic life-changing event? Tensions will grow, in times like this who will she turn to, the person that sent her off to like with her aunt at a very young age having no remembrance of her parents and the life she was suppose to live or the person the lied to her for quite some time and tricked her into believing they were her biological parents? Obviously no boom just stops there, will she live in Heaven or will she go with her dad, I know but I’m not a spoiler, so I guess you will just have to read to find out!

Star Rating:***** out of *****

Like I said I would rate this book high, five out of five stars. I really enjoyed the book Heaven because it’s easy to feel bad for the main character Marley, because of the life-changing event. You know how hard it would be on you to be told that your perfect like wasn’t so perfect at all. That the people you called family, the people that you called mommy and daddy were just a lie to make you feel like every thing was ok. This is why I find it easy to feel bad for her and connect with the story, not just that because I know someone who was told that they were adopted at a late age and how it was hard on them. I would recommend it to just about anyone that is old enough to read a chapter book. I think that there is a good chance they would find it relatable too. I think over all this was definitely a good choice my favorite thing about this book is how the author builds the suspense.

Profile Image for Melissa.
69 reviews
July 10, 2010
What complex characters. Reading ABOUT this book, I thought it would be a little too YA cheesy, but it isn't in the slightest. The simple plot -- girl finds out that she was adopted by her aunt and uncle at a young age, feels that everything she has known has been turned upside down, and gets mad -- is made more interesting by the fact that the man she has known has her uncle forever is an perpetually travelling Vietnam vet who has been writing her letters for that same "forever." It is also rich because of her friendships with a rebellious girl from a conformist "perfect" family and a young single dad whose daughter she babysits. Race is treated with the gentlest of hands, with references to skin color and the burning of a southern black church fundamental but always in the background of the story of the girl and her quest to understand why her parents (biological and adoptive) did what they did in the way they did.

So many of us who are not adopted have at one time or another wondered whether we could really be the biological children of our parents. In this book, Marley faces that reality and begins to explore what it means to be Marley.

I think the book might feel a bit young for many high school students.

Student(s) in mind:
Well, at least one student, Nelly, said she had loved it. I think it would be great for 9th or 10th grade girls that I teach, including ELLs at the intermediate or transitioning level.

Conference notes:
I would ask questions attempting to draw out inferences about race and about the meanings of family and friendship. What makes a mother or father? What does it mean to be a daughter? Is it important that Marley discovers the story of her parents in the way that she does (after a letter from the church that held her birth records, which was burned in a racial incident)? What about the fact that her uncle/father is a vet?

Level: Middle school and early high school. The language is relatively straightforward, and the vocabulary not difficult. Although the themes and characters have depth, it is possible to read without delving into all of these.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jaclyn Giordano.
55 reviews3 followers
January 26, 2010
“Even though some of the stories will hurt my hear 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.” Heaven is a chapter book intended for students in grades three through 6. I gave Heaven four stars because of its brutally honest and eye-opening story line of finding out that one’s parents aren’t really one’s parents after all. Family and life, love and trust can turn upside-down in one instant. Angela Johnson’s book is both sad and empowering. It can really connect to students who are searching for their identities, amongst those who are their family by blood and who are their family by bond. Set in the serene, yet kooky town of Heaven, Ohio, this text allows the reader to see deep into the heart of one teenage girl. The reader may even see themselves in the main character of Marley, as she could be your best friend, one who babysits, eats ice cream, stares up at the stars, and goes to the beach. Readers will be truly enthralled as the story unfolds. This text challenges and makes the reader think of the true definitions of love and family. Its commonplace setting and characters, with its heart-wrenching problems and situations, lets the reader see themselves in it. True to life, true to a teenager. It’s a metaphor for finding yourself and your identity amongst simplicity and then chaos, a text that any human can truly connect to.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,901 reviews132 followers
March 6, 2019
Heaven, Book 1

I Picked Up This Book Because: Picked up from the library for a Black History Month Readathon.

The Characters:

Moms, Pops, Butchy, Uncle Jack

The Story:

I didn’t understand what was going on in this book, so much so that I skipped from page 86 to the last chapter in the book. It’s full of I guess poetic prose but to me it’s full of half thoughts and half stories. I prefer my writing more straight forward.

From what I gather, Marly is a young lady living in the town of Heaven. Through a happenstance she finds out her world isn’t really what she thought it was. Marley understandably has a lot of emotions about this. In the end she seems to come to peace with her past and is looking forward to the future.

The Random Thoughts:

The Score Card:


2.5 Stars
31 reviews
March 8, 2011
Marley is 14 and has a wonderful life in Heaven. Heaven, Ohio that is; she is quite alive. She loves her Momma and Pops and even her little brother Butchy. Marley exchanges letters with her Uncle Jack frequently while wiring him money through the local Washington Mutual. Even though she writes him so much she has never seen him except for when she was really little. One day, as a result of churches being burned to the ground, Marley learns the truth about everyone; her Uncle Jack, Momma, Pops, and the truth she never knew about herself.
This was a well written story that tells about a young girl discovering what it is that really matters and the people that make up a family. I really liked how everything was handled and presented in this novel. Marley was confused but she learned a lot about trusting people and not letting one instant change your view of them for ever. I got a little bit confused when the truth came out almost like I had missed something and who they were talking about, but I pretty quickly figured it out.
Profile Image for Rachel.
119 reviews9 followers
May 24, 2008
Marley is a fourteen-year-old girl who lives with her parents and older brother in Heaven, Ohio, a small town where everyone gets along and there isn't any crime. She hangs out with a former beauty queen who turned self-abusive because of the pressure, and a dreadlocked single dad from New York. She babysits his daughter, Feather, and learns about life from him and her friend Shoogy, the former beauty queen. Marley finds out that she's adopted, and her world turns upside-down. This book talks a lot about what makes a family as Marley tries to figure out who her family really is. I loved learning along with Marley and Johnson is wonderful at drawing the reader in to Marley's struggle.
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book643 followers
March 28, 2017
This is one of the books that are required reading for my "Literature and Materials for Young Adults" course, as part of my MLIS program at the University of Maryland.

I had a very difficult time getting into this book. I started and restarted it several times. It's a short book with small pages and I should've been able to knock it out in a couple of hours or less. But instead it took me weeks, and I often lost track of the thread and needed to reread to remember what was going on.

Once I finally got to the dramatic part of the story, I was able to finish the book very quickly. Still, I felt that much of the drama was a bit melodramatic. But what do I know?

Overall, I would probably recommend this book for children in middle grades. Young adults might like the story, but the reading level and relative naiveté of Marley might put them a bit off.

The book either delves into or at least references somewhat serious topics, such as cutting, depression, PTSD, and/or adoption. They may be a bit mature for younger children, but I am confident that most middle school students would be able to understand the complex emotions surrounding these issues.
Profile Image for Sasha.
1,094 reviews
July 2, 2021
This is an extremely short book and can be finished within a day. It tells the story of Marley who is growing up in the town of Heaven. She soon discovers that she was adopted by her aunt and uncle because her mother died in a car accident and her father (who is also a Vietnam Vet) could not handle raising her because of his grief. While it did touch upon the bombings of Southern black churches, it did not go deep into the feelings of the main character and the trauma she underwent with this new knowledge. I wanted to love this book but just found it lacking in depth and character development.
Profile Image for Sandra.
633 reviews16 followers
November 1, 2019
Really enjoyed this book; it took a little long to set up, but it explores questions of identity and appearances in an emotionally powerful and affecting way. Don't have time for much of a review. But this is a keeper, so I will probably read it again at some point, and maybe write a little more.
Profile Image for Lauren Lee.
32 reviews
January 7, 2023
Not as good as The First Part Last, but still a good book about Marley and her journey of figuring out who she is. I loved how we got to see Bobby and Feather ❤️
“It looks to me like you’re either born in Heaven or you come here from someplace else to start all over and forget what happened before”
1 review
October 30, 2018
I thought that this book was interesting. When Marley found the letter and opened it it was life changing for her. She was very close with her Uncle Jack and when she got the letter from him saying that he was her father Marley found her self lost. Not knowing who she can trust or who to talk to. Her uncle jack was excited but kinda scared to take care of a child.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
30 reviews
June 22, 2010
"Heaven" is about a young girl named Marley who lives in a town called Heaven, which is ironic because those around her and the situations in which Marley finds herself are anything but divine. "Heaven" explores Marley's discovery of a huge family secret which makes Marley question the integrity of her family and friends. "Heaven" also describes the lifestyle of certain African American families without going into the subject of racism. Marley, through the exposition of her best friend Shoogy, also deals with teen issues like cutting. "Heaven" is more of a character study than the exposition of a plot.

I didn't care for this book, mostly because I felt like Marley wasn't that strong of a character and I couldn't identify with her. I haven't been subject to her family secret and couldn't really understand her frustration and sense of alienation. I also didn't share any of her interests or shy personality traits, so Marley's problems didn't grab me the way they might someone of her age or in her situation.

The saving grace of "Heaven" was the story of Bobby, who is a character in Johnson's novel "The First Part Last". I enjoyed seeing Bobby's unique situation and how he was raising his daughter, Feather, by himself even though he is just a teenager. I wish I had just read "The First Part Last" instead of "Heaven". The scenes with Bobby provide a grabbing point for the reader and compassion and awe for his situation. The character of Bobby kept me going.

Although I didn't like the novel, I think that young girls learning to find themselves for the first time would enjoy it. The book just wasn't pertinent to my age group or anything I dealt with as a preteen.
Profile Image for Erin.
273 reviews
May 9, 2010
This was a short and sweet little book that touched on some deep, potentially troubling issues with a delicacy that was admirable. Johnson did a wonderful job of describing both Marley's peaceful moments and her days of inner turmoil during this summer that she finds out the truth about her own past, which her parents have been hiding from her until now. Johnson's supporting characters were richly developed, and the additional post-card correspondence with Uncle Jack was well-incorporated into the novel's larger organization.

Even with everything that I loved about this novel, though, I couldn't give it more than three stars...because it was too short and too "easy." It felt like the exposition of a larger story that is still waiting to happen. I finished and found myself saying, "What a great short story. I hope that she writes the novel some day." ...And I realize that this novel is written for kids...but I think that I would have had this same reaction even if I was younger. I just wanted more to happen with each of these characters that I had come to know and care about.

I think that Johnson has written more novels that are also set in the town of Heaven, and I'm hoping that if I pick them up I will find the satisfaction of more action :-) ...or at least more narrative tension (which I enjoyed in The First Part Last as a result of its unique plot structure).
Profile Image for Sherrie.
747 reviews4 followers
September 7, 2009
"Heaven" by Angela Johnson
(from the back cover)
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. Happy in her loving family in the caring community of Heaven, Ohio, Marley doesn't know all she thinks she does. And when the truth comes down with the rain one stormy summer afternoon, it changes everything. It turns Momma and Pops into lairs. It makes her brother a stranger and her 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.

Wonderful book about growing up in a little country town. Marley's world is about to come unraveled. What she thought was her family is about to change, but will it really change? Through all this Marley has some friends to help her along the way. There is Shoogy Maple who lives the perfect life with her perfect family, only everything isn't perfect with Shoogy. There is Bobby Morris and his baby Feather, who Marley babysits, but Marley doesn't know much about the life Bobby left in New York. Through all of this Marley has to figure out who her family really is. I don't want to tell you the mystery, because this would give away the whole plot of the book. It's an easy read and moves along pretty fast.
30 reviews1 follower
May 8, 2010
Marley, the main character, lives in Heaven, Ohio and her life is heaven in the beginning of the story. She loves her family and shares sweet stories of family bonding at home and on road trips. One of my favorite stories is of a family trip to Cleveland to see “the museums, fireworks, and a rib-burn-off.” She has two good friends named Shoogy and Bobby and, though their lives are not perfect, they enjoy one another’s company and feel comfortable with each other. One of Marley’s responsibilities is wiring money to her Uncle Jack on a regular basis. Jack is a wanderer who travels the United States with his dog and she has never met him. Marley’s perfect existence comes to a halt one day when she learns the truth about herself and her family and the remainder of the book documents her pain as she comes to grips with her less than perfect circumstances. Her family and friends stay close to her as she lashes out in pain and seeks to understand.

This book provided insights into a young girl's feelings as she wrestled with an unsettling truth. As it is a time of physical and emotional change, it is little wonder that such news would be devastating. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to young adults.
34 reviews
June 2, 2013
fourteen year old Marley grew up in Heaven, OH with her Momma, Pops, and little brother Butchy. Her life had always been secure with a loving mother and father and a brother whom she got along with. She would receive letters from her Uncle Jack often, but she had never met him. Her happy life is turned upside down when she finds out that Momma and Pops are not her real parents. Her mother, Christine, died in a car accident and her father, "Uncle Jack" could not handle taking care of Marley by himself. Marley struggles with what family means and who she really is, until she sees all those around her. She learns that love an create a family bond even if they aren't your blood relatives.

The plot of Heaven seemed very generic. The plot went like this; there was a perfect life that was drastically changed by something that was more dramatic then it should be. The character then learns and gives a little "lesson learned" conclusion at the end of the novel. I also did not appreciate the writing style. It was confusing at times. Some parts seemed to try and create suspense, but it only confused me. I didn't want to read the book at some moments because of the writing.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,126 reviews88 followers
August 13, 2008
This was such a sensitive and delicate little novel that I checked several times to see if I was actually reading one of Jacqueline Woodson's best.

Fourteen-year-old Marley lives an almost idyllic existence in the little town of Heaven. Her parents love her, she gets along with her brother (mostly), and she's built a family of friends of all ages who watch out for her. Plus, there are the letters from Uncle Jack, who she's never met, but who writes her regularly and tells her about his life on the road and his dog named Boy. When Marley learns that everything about her family isn't the way it seems, it forces her to re-examine life and her place in it.

This is a novel that, despite its brevity, does not go for easy answers or one-dimensional characters. Everyone has a depth to them. Marley's voice feels authentic; while she is clearly intelligent and sensitive, she is also fourteen and confused, and it comes through beautifully. I loved this book.
Profile Image for Joy.
292 reviews
September 24, 2012
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Johnson at the TAIR conference in Denton, TX this weekend. She was gracious and entertaining, sharing stories of her own childhood in such a way that I knew I had to read her books as soon as possible. This story did not disappoint.

Marley, a young girl living in northeastern Ohio, discovers something about her life that shakes the roots of her identity. At the same time, she interacts with other people who have difficulties in their lives. The support stories are inserted in order to help Marley see that despite the bomb that is dropped on her, she has a good life.

Part of my enjoyment was influenced by Marley's ponderings about the Amish people in Middlefield, OH. Every summer my grandparents would take me to Middlefield to get fresh cheese and produce, so I related to her childish questions about their way of life and what they would think of the world.

A thoroughly pleasing book, I plan on using it with my Reading students as a teacher read-aloud.
34 reviews1 follower
May 24, 2010
Marley has lived in Heaven, Ohio since she was two years old. She has Momma and Pops and her brother, and her friends Bobby and Shoogy, and her Uncle Jack who writes her letters from all over the country. But when she learns that Momma and Pops are actually her aunt and uncle, and the Uncle Jack that she has been writing to and receiving letters from for 10 years is actually her father, she has to take a look at her life and decide if this new information really changes things.

This was a happy, read-in-an-hour-on-a-Sunday-afternoon kind of book. It was thoughtful, and I was intrigued by the character Shoogy, as well as Bobby and his daughter Feather. It wasn't plot-driven, but character driven, but I left with a generally peaceful feeling. Not particularly thought-provoking, but maybe it would have more meaning to me if I'd been adopted and not known it for most of my life.
Profile Image for Shally Clark.
30 reviews1 follower
May 25, 2010
Copyright: 1998
Number of pages: 138

Marley lives an ordinary life in Heaven, OH with two parents who love her, a little brother she gets along with best friends she spends a lot of time with and other neighbors and family that she loves. She also has an uncle Jack who she has not seen since right after her birth. She feels likes everything in her life is great until she finds out news that flips her world upside down. This book is about how Marley, has to find stability in the midst of confusion and decide as a 14-year-old, how she is going to live the rest of her life.

My reaction to the book:
I thought is was a good book. Because of its length it couldn't be as developed as I usually like in books. The story was heart warming but not something I would need to read again. It did teach great valuable lessons about family, personal strength and love.
Profile Image for Heather.
31 reviews
January 20, 2011
This is a sweet little story about a 14-year-old girl named Marley. She lives with her mom and dad and her brother in a town called Heaven and writes letters to her Uncle Jack all the time. Then she finds out a big secret that she is not sure how to cope with and it really changes her perspective on her family and her whole life.
I thought this was a really cute story and a quick read. Marley is sweet and easy to fall in love with. It was interesting to see how parental decisions effect their children. One little decision so many years before, kept secret can really change a child's perspective. No one likes to be lied to.
9 reviews
May 25, 2009
I have used The First Part Last, another novel by Johnson, as a class read in the past. The students loved it so much that I only have a few copies remaining in the classroom. I think this novel would be a little more difficult for my students to connect with. The setting is a little distant for them. However, I do like that Johnson brings in the main character from her other novel; Bobby. Also, the main conflict is one my students would find interesting. I only worry about the motivation at the beginning of the novel.
33 reviews
June 11, 2010
When Marley's mother was younger, long before Marley was born, she found a postcard marked Heaven, OH. She knew she would live there. And that's exactly where Marley has been raised. She's lived in Heaven her entire life. And it's great. She has friends and family that are great to her. She has everything she's ever wanted. But then she must move to Alabama and have her life turned upside down...

I gave this book 2 stars because it was really just O.K. I didn't really like the characters.It was all just boring to me. A very average book.
Profile Image for Julie Bennett.
30 reviews
July 20, 2010
"Heaven" is about Marley, a fourteen year old girl living in small town, who finds out a terrible secret. She discovers that she is adopted by her aunt and uncle who she thought were her real parents, and that her real mom is dead and her dad couldn't keep her. This book is mostly about how Marley deals with this surprising news. I thought this book was well written and a sweet story with a good moral, but it wasn't very interesting. It's a cute book though! Just not my cup of tea (and we're not supposed to drink tea!)
251 reviews3 followers
January 31, 2010
This book was highly discussed and praised in my recent children's literature class, so I gave it a try. I would almost give it 3 stars because it was short, if it had been longer it would have gotten really boring. If your middle schooler ever forgets to do a book report, this is like a 2-3 hour read (it does say "hell" 3-4 times). It was interesting, but nothing really captivating or jaw dropping.
Profile Image for santina.
20 reviews5 followers
February 20, 2010
Heaven is the story of a young girl who learns a secret about her past that shakes the foundations of her identity. I picked this up the day after I read The First Part Last because I tore through that book so quickly and I needed another dose of Johnson's writing. The main character of that book makes a few appearances in Heaven and helps the main character navigate her new place in her world. I finished this the same day I purchased it.
26 reviews
July 22, 2010
This book is about 14-year-old Marley, who lives in a small town called Heaven She has loving friends, and a loving family, and an uncle Jack who writes her all the time, even though she hasn't seen him since she was a baby. Soon she finds out that her family has been lying to her, and that her mother and father aren't her real parents, but Jack is actually her father.

I really liked this book, it was a quick easy read, and kind of a feel good book. I really loved all of the characters.
Profile Image for Jenny.
905 reviews7 followers
January 22, 2011
Marley is happy with her seemingly perfect life in Heaven, OH. She has good friends and a loving family. Until the letter arrives. Now it seems that her parents aren't really her parents, her brother is her cousin, and her real father is Uncle Jack, a man she can't remember who only sends her letters. Now Marley must figure out how she fits into this new family.
Profile Image for Fade.
12 reviews19 followers
January 5, 2012
I liked this book, it reflected some of the lives I see at the home for kids that I go to, to serve. Some of them dont know who they or their real parents are. I really liked the part of the book where there is a tornado, and Marley finds out she was adopted. I think it is kind of ironic that there is a real storm, and then Marley life storm begins.
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