shannon-chatI think I may be in the minority with this one, but I wasn’t as swept away by Boo as I expected to be. At first I found the image of heaven to be really interesting, but as the novel went on I was frustrated by the fact that it seemed more like random ideas about how it would be than an actual framework.
catherine-chat2That was the hardest part for me initially—how disappointing heaven was! It was just shabby, kind-of-weird life. I never thought I had definite ideas about heaven but as I was reading it made me mad. To the point that I thought “well, if this is it then just shutting out the lights and being done is preferable.” For me, that was almost a more important plot point than what actually happened to Boo and Johnny on Earth.
monika-chatI’m not sure I ever saw this as heaven…just an afterlife, maybe? A transitional space?
april-chatI saw it as a transitional space too—as they only spend fifty years there.
catherine-chat2Thelma calls it Heaven and the hereafter when Boo first arrives but I think what you’re saying is probably a key component of the novel—what do you picture after death?
april-chatTrue, but I got the feeling that Thelma, at least at the beginning was kind of a portrait of a “true believer”—she was a Do-Gooder too.
jennifer-chatI wasn’t sure what to think about the way Heaven was portrayed here. During the first half of the book I liked the not knowing. I liked the wondering, the mystery of it all. During the second half I started to feel frustrated that the answers weren’t forthcoming. Maybe I was disheartened at this portrayal of the afterlife? I thought those kids deserved something better than what they got.
catherine-chat2What about the framework of Town? Did anyone else find it odd, disjointed, inexplicable? I felt as if I was missing something because there were so many rules to Town—you stay for 50 years, you can be hurt, people are mean. And the fact that there was a whole movement to find portals to get out of there.
monika-chatYou’re right, there were a lot of rules to Town! I didn’t think much about it until now. I accepted the disjointedness because it was full of kids governing each other. I almost expected it to be imperfect.
april-chatAgreed! Though I felt like the rules to Town were less part of the governing forces by the kids and more something oddly inexplicable, or perhaps explicable with careful study and science—like gravity.
jennifer-chatI kept waiting for those kids to find a way out. I was SURE that this wasn’t an afterlife but a plot to trap children for some reason. Monika’s mention of children governing themselves made me wonder if the author was shooting for a Lord of the Flies type of vibe?
shannon-chatI think the rule thing is what bothered me, too…I just had a really hard time nailing down the vision Neil Smith was trying to create. It was almost like he kept getting new ideas and throwing them into the afterlife pile rather than working to reshape them into a concept.
catherine-chat2As I flipped back through it, Shannon, I got more of that feeling. Especially after Oliver shot Johnny—and he didn’t die per se. What was the purpose/meaning of that? It felt creepy but then I went on a religious mind-bender and wondered if Johnny was supposed to be some kind of Christ-like figure. Dying for Oliver’s sins (twice), being dead/not-dead in Town, and then, finally, after Oliver is faced with his truth, disappearing/being resurrected. There was also the part where he started bleeding from the wrists. A whole lot of possible symbolism being thrown around…
jennifer-chatI think that’s what happened to the second half—too many things going on and none of them made sense. But let me say that I really liked Boo. The plot meandered but the characters were compelling. That’s what saved the book, for me.
shannon-chatHow did you all feel about the “mystery” in the novel? As soon as Gunboy was suggested, I knew that it was Boo. I wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to be the shooter, but I knew it was him. I felt like it was so obvious that I kept hoping I was wrong.
catherine-chat2Interesting. I didn’t get that at all. He seemed too comfortable in his oddness, but as the novel progressed I felt uneasy and started thinking it was one of them and then that it was Johnny.
monika-chatI didn’t suspect Boo at all! Once it was revealed it made perfect sense to me, and I saw the clues in retrospect…which sadly, I think is part of the lesson here.
april-chatI was like Catherine and Monika in that I never once suspected Boo. Obviously I knew that he had died of a school shooting, but I suspected everyone except poor little Boo.
shannon-chatI was also confused by the choice to set the book in the 1970’s, since it was referenced so rarely. At one point I almost decided to stop reading because several characters had used the word “retarded” without any comments or correction from the people around them. It was really, really bothering me. It wasn’t until I remembered that the book was set in the 70’s, when that term was actually commonplace, that I felt okay to move on. But it just felt so odd to choose a specific time period and not actually use it.
catherine-chat2In what way would you have liked to have seen it used? I didn’t think it was a strong plot point but I did find the scattered references to the 70’s made sense.
shannon-chatBy not using it, I just mean…why set it in the 70’s if the story was basically modern with a few (very) scattered references? I don’t know for sure, but I feel like this is happening more frequently. I know there’s a concern now in writing that technology will always feel dated in a few years, and you can’t really write about modern high school kids without including cell phones and the internet. It’s easy to dodge that completely by setting your story before that technology is introduced.
april-chatI found that odd as well, but I attributed it to the 90’s being the era when school shootings really took off—so perhaps it was Smith’s attempt at sensitivity or something of the sort, but honestly I didn’t think too much about it.
jennifer-chatI wondered about the setting but I think authors use those times not because the technology becomes dated but because the story changes drastically when characters don’t have access to the internet and/or cell phones. There’s no Googling, there’s no texting, there’s no easy way to track someone down or call someone for help.
catherine-chat2What about the periodic tables? The number 106? The streets and towns named after storybook characters? Significance or throwaways?
monika-chatI saw the storybook character street names as a reminder that these were still children. Teens, yes, but younger ones, still very much children, in ways. I think it could be easy to forget that, but using those particular names seemed like a way to grab a sobering reality check, if needed.
april-chatI loved the storybook character building and street names. While I agree that it was a reminder that these were children when they died, I think an important part of the novel was the fact that while these children didn’t age physically they did age emotionally, they “grew up,” got married, matured. What does that say about the novel’s view on the afterlife? What about the fifty years spent in the town and then the disappearance?

What about Johnny and Boo both returning to earth? Was it a bridge too far?
shannon-chatIt felt that way to me, and it kind of goes back to the problem I had with the novel’s mashup of ideas. While there can be a ton of artistic freedom in a book about the afterlife, I think there still needs to be some boundaries set to guide readers and I feel like those were missing.
catherine-chat2Good point, and that may be where I was left. I thought Oliver’s journey with Johnny and that Johnny knew Oliver had killed him, even accidentally, was very poignant but so many other aspects were thrown in there that the message was diluted, if not lost.


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What about you, dear readers? What did you think of Heaven? Do you have to believe in Heaven to enjoy books about the afterlife?  There was quite a bit of symbolism in this one: Did you come up with any theories?