After being hit in the head during a gym class game of dodgeball, 16-year-old Tessa finds herself soaring towards Heaven... and ends up at the mall.
After being lead to the the Lost and Found, she is left to confront her memories and relive significant moments in her life, which will hopefully lead her to a Big Answer -- except that she's not really sure what the question is.
Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall is a verse novel. It begins:
For fifty cents and a Gobstopper
I lifted my shirt for the neighborhood boys.
My older brother Matt caught us
and chased the boys with a Wiffle bat.
Word got around, and at nine years old
I became the girl
other girls' moms
didn't want them to play with.
Like some other verse novels I've read, this book felt less like poetry to me and more like prose with a lot of extra line breaks. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it -- but I felt it was worth mentioning. I could imagine the book working just as well as a connected sequence of short stories or even vignettes.
I really enjoyed Tessa as a character. She's far from perfect, but that makes her more real, and I do think that most teens will find that they identify with at least a part of her. I also felt that Tessa's memory sequences were strong. (Especially those involving Ben -- the moment under the bleachers and the scene in the elevator both really worked for me.) They ranged from momentarily joyful to downright heartbreaking:
Just because Mom had, like a million
friends when she was my age
because she competed in pageants
(a concept that makes me shiver
just thinking about it) she thinks
there's something wrong with me
because I only have three real friends,
and they each have more
important friends than me.
I found myself less interested, less involved and less invested with the actual Heaven part of the book. Once the "Is it all a dream? Am I dead or aren't I?" questions started, I felt that I knew exactly where that angle of the story was going and just... lost interest. For me, that made her revelations anticlimactic, because, well, I've already read A Christmas Carol and I've already seen It's a Wonderful Life. I knew where it was going. I think, though, that the same aspect of the book that didn't work for me might make it a comfort read for others.
Again, her life story always held me and kept me curious -- and that makes up the majority of the book. My feelings about it as a whole are mixed, but more positive than negative.