Friday, December 20, 2013

8 Heart Review: The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

The First Phone Call from Heaven
Mitch Albom
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Page Count: 272

Release Date: November 21st 2013
Publisher: HarperLuxe (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

One autumn day, in the small northern town of Coldwater, Michigan, the phones begin ringing. The people calling are all deceased. They talk about heaven. They say they are safe and happy. Each call is greeted differently—some with relief, some with love, some with religious zeal, some with fear.

On that same day, Sully Harding is released from jail for a crime he may not have committed. During his time behind bars, his wife, Giselle, passed away, leaving him a single father filled with heartbreak and regret. He returns to his hometown of Coldwater, hoping to rebuild his life. Instead, he finds a community increasingly gripped by miracle fever. As the mysterious phone calls become more frequent, outsiders begin flocking from all over the world to be part of the blessing, changing the small town indelibly, and turning local citizens into worshiped heroes.

When his own son begins to carry a toy cell phone awaiting word from his mother, Sully has had enough. He sets out to prove that the Coldwater phenomenon is a hoax. But is it? Or could this be the world's greatest miracle? Do the calls give people hope or do they imprison the receivers in a never-ending cycle of grief?

The story follows several Coldwater residents whose lives are irrevocably touched when they are confronted with evidence that heaven exists. This remarkable novel takes us on a journey both of individual healing and society's response to the question of life after life.

Albom's work has never been so moving and unexpected. Readers of The Five People You Meet in Heaven will recognize the warmth and emotion so redolent of Albom's writing, and those who haven't yet enjoyed the power of his storytelling will thrill at the discovery of one of the best-loved writers of our time.
"God wants people to know... not to be afraid... Dad, I was so scared when I was fighting... Every day, afraid for my life, afraid I might lose my life... But now I know. Fear is how you lose your life... a little bit at a time... What we give to fear, we take away from... faith."

Mitch Albom is one of those authors who could write about any topic under the sun and make it drop-dead amazing. He captivated readers in the past with his original stories, stunning attention to personal detail, and an unembellished, but deeply poignant style, and in his newest novel, he once again works his rare magic, reclaiming his title as my most cherished inspirational and literary fiction writer.

The First Phone Call from Heaven intimately follows the lives of the chosen children, parents, and spouses of Coldwater whose lives are forever altered when they receive phone calls from those they are mourning... their dead loved ones. Sparking extreme media interest and frenzied support, as well as protest from those who cannot let go of the controversy of divine voices coming through man-made technology, these phone calls become the world's biggest spectacle—except to Sully Harding, who is past skepticism, and now is just downright angry with the nonsense. The sudden "miracle" is giving his young son false hope, and it's making it impossible for a non-believer like him to come to terms with his wife's tragic death; through town resources and the cooperation of his community members, he is determined to expose the phone calls as an utter hoax.

But in the end, we beg to ask: Does it really matter whether the phone calls are actually a miracle from up above, or if they're a worldly intervention? After all, they are the best thing that's happened to Coldwater, and better yet, they're giving lost souls on Earth a chance to reconnect with the lost souls in heaven, and accept the notion of death.

Through the intertwined stories of various personal losses and varying levels of religiosity, Albom gives readers a glimpse of miraculous healing even when the source isn't necessarily a miracle, as well as emphasizes what it truly means to believe. The First Phone Call from Heaven contains one of Albom's characteristic fantasy worlds, so vividly illustrated in a precious literary tone and through a contemporary community.

Regardless of whether your belief is placed in a higher power or just in yourself, I guarantee you will find this an affecting novel about coping, reminiscing, and living—because all these can happen, even if you lose someone you love. It isn't a religious novel if you don't make it out to be. Albom's message isn't about God or prayer or anything remotely affiliated; it's about the importance of healing and keeping faith in our lives.

As Sully begins to accept the loss of his beautiful wife, and as he begins to crack down on the mystery of the heavenly communication, he discovers shattering secrets and an unsettling realization that, although having never received one, he is undeniably connected to these phone calls. Readers will root for Sully on his difficult path to letting go of his anger over what he considers his life's greatest injustice: forgiving those responsible, forgiving the God he's so weary of hearing about, and most of all, forgiving himself.

Pros


Albom does not disappoint // Smooth, simple, but incredibly powerful style // Fast-paced; does not drag // Beautiful inspirational message about loss, love, and life // Well-fleshed characters // Contemporary novel with an almost allegorical, fantastical tone

Cons


Obviously not extremely realistic // Keeping track of all the townsmembers' names gets a little confusing

Love

Sometimes, love brings you together even as life keeps you apart.

Verdict


Mitch Albom's newest and most anticipated book reminds individuals of the omnipresence of heaven and the impossibility of any human soul ever being forgotten, even after death. With the same seamless, heartfelt writing we all fell in love with in his previous works, as well as the kind of fresh, enlightening plot that is unique to his stories, Albom's The First Phone Call in Heaven is a breathtakingly inspirational and deeply meaningful novel about living without fear—which is to say, having faith Americanflag


8 hearts: An engaging read that will be worth your while; highly recommended (x)