Mitch Albom is one of those authors who could write about any topic under the sun and make it drop-dead amazing. He captivated readers in the past with his original stories, stunning attention to personal detail, and an unembellished, but deeply poignant style, and in his newest novel, he once again works his rare magic, reclaiming his title as my most cherished inspirational and literary fiction writer.
The First Phone Call from Heaven intimately follows the lives of the chosen children, parents, and spouses of Coldwater whose lives are forever altered when they receive phone calls from those they are mourning... their dead loved ones. Sparking extreme media interest and frenzied support, as well as protest from those who cannot let go of the controversy of divine voices coming through man-made technology, these phone calls become the world's biggest spectacle—except to Sully Harding, who is past skepticism, and now is just downright angry with the nonsense. The sudden "miracle" is giving his young son false hope, and it's making it impossible for a non-believer like him to come to terms with his wife's tragic death; through town resources and the cooperation of his community members, he is determined to expose the phone calls as an utter hoax.
But in the end, we beg to ask: Does it really matter whether the phone calls are actually a miracle from up above, or if they're a worldly intervention? After all, they are the best thing that's happened to Coldwater, and better yet, they're giving lost souls on Earth a chance to reconnect with the lost souls in heaven, and accept the notion of death.
Through the intertwined stories of various personal losses and varying levels of religiosity, Albom gives readers a glimpse of miraculous healing even when the source isn't necessarily a miracle, as well as emphasizes what it truly means to believe. The First Phone Call from Heaven contains one of Albom's characteristic fantasy worlds, so vividly illustrated in a precious literary tone and through a contemporary community.
Regardless of whether your belief is placed in a higher power or just in yourself, I guarantee you will find this an affecting novel about coping, reminiscing, and living—because all these can happen, even if you lose someone you love. It isn't a religious novel if you don't make it out to be. Albom's message isn't about God or prayer or anything remotely affiliated; it's about the importance of healing and keeping faith in our lives.
As Sully begins to accept the loss of his beautiful wife, and as he begins to crack down on the mystery of the heavenly communication, he discovers shattering secrets and an unsettling realization that, although having never received one, he is undeniably connected to these phone calls. Readers will root for Sully on his difficult path to letting go of his anger over what he considers his life's greatest injustice: forgiving those responsible, forgiving the God he's so weary of hearing about, and most of all, forgiving himself.
Pros: Albom does not disappoint // Smooth, simple, but incredibly powerful style // Fast-paced; does not drag // Beautiful inspirational message about loss, love, and life // Well-fleshed characters // Contemporary novel with an almost allegorical, fantastical tone
Cons: Obviously not extremely realistic // Keeping track of all the townsmembers' names gets a little confusing
Verdict: Mitch Albom's newest and most anticipated book reminds individuals of the omnipresence of heaven and the impossibility of any human soul ever being forgotten, even after death. With the same seamless, heartfelt writing we all fell in love with in his previous works, as well as the kind of fresh, enlightening plot that is unique to his stories, Albom's The First Phone Call in Heaven is a breathtakingly inspirational and deeply meaningful novel about living without fear—which is to say, having faith.
Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read that will be worth your while; highly recommended.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!).