Title: The First Phone Call From Heaven
Author: Mitch Albom
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief--and a page-turner that will touch your soul--Albom's masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.
If you read my Review Policy with any regularity (as I'm so sure that you do!), you know that it says I don't review novels in the "Christian" genre. This is not because I'm anti-religion or anything like that, but more because the majority of Christian fiction I've encountered has been a bit too preachy for my taste. However, the definite exception to this rule goes to Mitch Albom. I find that his discussions of Christian beliefs are more thought-provoking than directive, and his previous books have all left me thinking about them loooong after I finished the final page. So much so that The Five People You Meet In Heaven is one of my fave all-time novels. So you can imagine how excited I got when I found out he had a new one coming out this year.
The First Phone Call From Heaven is not a fiction novel that's meant to be scrutinized for its fast-paced action or the accuracy of its detail. The story begins when a few citizens of a small Michigan town begin receiving phone calls from their dead friends and relatives in heaven. Their situation becomes increasingly public, and the reactions (both in town and across the country) are widely varied. This is where the true interest in the novel was for me. How would you react to such an event, given your own beliefs about Christianity and heaven?
For some characters in the novel, it strengthened their religious faith...but maybe in a selfish way (ie. wanting to be the only one who received a call and not wanting to share the recognition with others). For others, it led to deep skepticism and a need to reveal the situation as a hoax. Some took advantage of it as a financial opportunity...religious leaders struggled with whether it was a help or a hindrance to their congregations...some felt that it gave them the comfort and closure they never received after a loved ones' death...the media used it as a ratings booster...etc.
No one reaction is shown to be "right" or "wrong", but the reader is left to think about the reasoning behind each character's actions, and the spiritual struggles they must go through in order to justify their resulting actions.
Even though the novel is told from so many different perspectives, there is a central plot line around Sully, a recent widower who feels the need to disprove the validity of the calls. His personal journey is the one that ties many of the other characters together, and his quest to get to the bottom of the calls drives the story along. The ending to his portion of the tale does have a unique twist, and the spiritual message it conveys is fluid enough that each reader is going to be able to interpret it slightly differently. THAT is what makes a great Christian-based novel for me. Albom isn't telling you what to believe, but puts a lot of different perspectives on the table and leaves it up to you to place additional meaning behind them.
Mitch Albom has an uncanny ability to create novels whose central purpose is to make you think over some pretty heavy stuff, but at the same time, they have a plot line that's strong enough to give you a good story on its own. The First Phone Call From Heaven is no exception. Even if Christian fiction isn't usually your thing, I'd still recommend giving this one (or any of Albom's other books) a try.
As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
HERE. And connect with Mitch Albom on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.