Well friends, the last two weeks has been something of a challenge. Family is indisputably a blessing (as you’ll see in this book review), but worrying about them can really bring you down. I’ve decided that after you’ve done all you can can reasonably do to help, you have to love them and move on. Dwelling on their difficulties or bad choices or trials does not bring happiness. Love does. And so does hope. So the happiness lesson of the day: hope. Always hope.
That being said, the above and a super-long book on Indian history, has consumed my time (not to mention work. Work is the worst. I need a rich patron that will pay me to read and blog—where does one find such a person?). However, I managed to find a few hours to get through Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson. And I’m glad I did.
This book is made up of three parts: before the crash, immediately following the crash, and life after the crash. Stephanie Nielson gets in a plane crash—a veritable fireball exploding upon a sleepy subdivision—at the very beginning of the book, a prologue of what’s to come.
After that interesting tidbit, she flashes back to her life growing up, finding Christian, getting married, and having children. Naturally, the crash follows where her faith is challenged. She must come to love herself (after severe burns along 80 percent of her body) and establish a new life on the ashes of the old. Just in case you’re dying to know, her husband (who’s in the plane with her) survives the crash—this isn’t actually giving anything away, so calm down.
The greatest challenge in the story, the enemy that must be fought and conquered, the antagonist, occurs within the walls of Stephanie’s own soul and is made up of her own insecurities. This is the main theme in the book, the main point. This story is about the unconquerable, divine human spirit.
I’m not gonna lie, I almost didn’t want to make it through part one, because it consisted largely of her teenage angst and turmoil over her love (I use this term loosely as she barely knew him enough to love him) for Christian. The whole thing, while being a true story and real, was very cliché. It was like reading the Twilight books all over again. I wanted to yell at her to get it together and stop defining herself through her boyfriend and the men in her life. I see this way too often in real life and I didn’t want to have to witness it in my book too.
Luckily she finally captured the elusive hero and I didn’t have to suffer her internal whiny monologue anymore. Of course, this was followed by a picture-perfect life that was also a little nauseating. The best part was her struggles in New Jersey. That was much more relatable. I just feel like Stephanie left out the best parts of those years, the challenge and strife and difficulties of a new adult without hardly any adult experience getting married and being thrust into motherhood when she was still practically a child herself. Her life just didn’t feel real to me.
And honestly, leaving out those real moments made me wonder how she developed the strength of character necessary to survive what was to come. Faith and courage isn’t born from easiness, it’s born in the furnace of affliction. She wouldn’t have been able to deal with a plane crash and the resulting problems if she hadn’t had to develop that strength through earlier trials.
So I assumed that no woman of 19 gets married and moves from her parents’ house to her husband’s house, has a kid less than a year later and doesn’t have to face a lot of tribulation. Once I made that very reasonable assumption, everything that came later was easy to believe.
And a lot came later, a lot of difficulty and despair and self-loathing (because a beautiful woman who has disfiguring scars is going to experience some self-loathing regardless of the situation).
What I loved most was the unshakable, unflinching faith and love of her husband, Christian. This man was amazingly patient and kind. It was humbling to see the love he had for his wife—the true love where one soul recognizes another, where beauty really is based on the spirit shining through.
I loved the determination and faith that Stephanie had. My criticisms about the first part of the book have nothing to do with her strength of character. It’s what I saw in the parts two and three that made me go back and reevaluate part one. I think that she didn’t do herself justice there.
I also loved Stephanie’s thoughts about love and happiness, discoveries that not many people make. Only those who are steeped in the furnace of affliction—truly immersed for months and even years of suffering in that fire (of which I am one)—can easily see those truths that others struggle to understand:
- Sometimes all you have is hope, and that can be enough. Hope can lead to joy if you let it.
- You can choose happiness (happiness lesson #2!).
“The more I make the choice to see and feel joy, the more joy there is to see and to feel.”
- Scars are witnesses of miracles, not unsightly sores (this understanding was given courtesy of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland).
- Trials teach us valuable lessons.
This book tells the truth about faith and beauty and love: that it’s much more than you can see; that it’s strong and eternal. If you ever question your own strength, read this book and realize the depths that you really have.
Mostly for that annoying first part. Without it I would’ve easily given it 9/10.