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Heaven by Angela Johnson. Published in 1998

Heaven, the 1999 winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, is about a fourteen year old girl named Marely. She lives in Heaven, Ohio with her Momma, Pop, and her younger brother Butchy. Heaven is a small town where everyone knows everyone and everything that you need is within walking distance. One of the places that Marley goes to often is Ma’s Superette, “Ma’s was the place you could get nachos and nail polish” (pg 7). This little town truly lives up to its name; everyone lives comfortably and in peace.
Throughout the story we are introduced to all of the people in Marley’s life; Jack (her mysterious, traveling uncle who writes her letters), Shoogy (her unique best friend), and Bobby and his daughter Feather. She is there for all of them and they are there for her. It wouldn’t be until a particular summer day when she would need their support more than ever.
After finding out news that Marley’s life and family is not what she thought it was, she is sent on a journey. Marley must find her true self, learn to forgive those closest to her, and redefine what it means to be a family.
At the tender age of fourteen Marley (named after Bob Marley) realizes that life in Heaven is not all wonderful like she has always believed. Marley is on a quest to figure out what really makes a family? Is it the people you've lived with, taken care of you and loved you your whole life, or is it your blood realtives which you don't even remember? Pops says, "Sometimes it's easy to tell where you are. Just look around and notice the people who have always been there for you, and follow them." (99) At first the jumping from flashbasks to present-day story line may be confusing the reader but in the end the reader will not be disappointed. Throughout the novel Marley stuggles to understand a very difficult concept; what is real, what's true, and what really matters? This novel does a great job of showing that while growing up, the view you have on the world might not always be true but you have to embrace what is thrown your way, you must try to make the best of it! " Even though some the stories will hurt my heart and sometimes make me afraid of losing more of what I have; I want her to know that it's been a fine life, for a girl like me, in Heaven." (138)

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Angela Johnson grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama and started writing in high school. When asked what she started writing about and when she said,
"In high school I wrote punk poetry that went with my razor blade necklace. At that point in my life my writing was personal and angry. I didn't want anyone to like it. I didn't want to be in the school literary magazine, or to be praised for something that I really didn't want understood. Of course, ten years later, I hope that my writing is universal and speaks to everyone who reads it. I still have the necklace, though." (Author Bio & List of Books)
Since her time in high school, Johnson has written several young adult novels. She is also an award winner for her children's picture books. She currently lives in Kent, Ohio.




Additional Resources:
Coretta Scott King Award Info.
Group Discussion for Kids
Teaching and reading guide



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