By MEGAN SENNETT, GB Youth Board | Published April 20, 2004
‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’
The novel “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” begins at The End. As soon as we are introduced to Eddie, a maintenance worker at the Ruby Pier amusement park, on his 83rd birthday, a countdown to his impending death begins.
Having worked at the amusement park for almost his entire adult life after his stint in a war, Eddie is the lonely and somewhat dull man who feels that he has never accomplished much in his life. He hasn’t celebrated his birthday in years, at least not since his wife Marguerite died, so this day is very much like most of the others in Eddie’s long life. However, he has no idea that he will die when an amusement park ride malfunctions. When Eddie’s team of much younger workers climbs up the ride and attempts to fix the problem, one of their decisions fails to prevent the cars from barreling to the ground straight in the path of a young girl. Eddie attempts to push her out of the way to safety, but he gets killed in the process. The important question that remains throughout the entire book is: Did he save the young girl?
After his death Eddie finds himself at the Ruby Pier with someone that he doesn’t immediately recognize. When he finds out that he’s in heaven, the man that Eddie’s with tells him, “There are five people you meet in heaven. Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth.”
Eddie then embarks on his journey through heaven visiting his past, meeting his chosen five people. He discovers some surprising secrets that they reveal to him, and attempts to understand the lessons they teach him about what they have to do with his life or death.
In alternating sections, we learn about Eddie’s life through a series of flashbacks of past birthdays, from childhood to old age. The author also describes life in Eddie’s old corner of the world without him, his funeral, and the struggles of his friends to live without him.
Mitch Albom, author of the wildly successful memoir “Tuesdays with Morrie,” does sometimes veer into preachy and sappy territory in his first book of fiction, which has now joined “Morrie” on the best-seller list. However, his down-to-earth style and universal theme contribute to an enjoyable and even thought-provoking novel. Along with Eddie, readers learn that all of our lives are connected in some way. Acts of kindness and sacrifice that we do for others, even for strangers, do truly affect other people. Often the most seemingly insignificant things make the biggest difference in someone else’s life.
A top sports writer, Albom’s portrayal of heaven is very interesting. As Catholics, we believe that all deserving souls go to heaven to live with God for all eternity. However, we don’t know any more specifics than that. Parts of Albom’s descriptions of heaven, such as the sky constantly changing colors, were not believable to me. However, the whole setup of meeting people from your life made me wonder if I will meet deceased relatives and other people from my life when I get to heaven. That is the ultimate human mystery: What truly does happen to us when we die? What is heaven truly like?
These messages were best exemplified through the use of Eddie as the story’s protagonist. After his wartime experiences and the death of his wife, he was cynical and often mad at the world. He worked at a low-level job greasing rides and keeping them safe at an amusement park, due to a lack of both education and ambition. However, this uninspired man lets us know that no matter how mundane and unimportant we think we are, we all make some kind of a difference in other people’s lives.