Mass, Wendy. 2007. Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. ISBN: 9780316058513
After a terrible dodge ball accident in gym, Tessa finds herself in place she thought she wouldn’t see for a long time: Heaven. What she finds out is that Heaven (at least for her) looks like the mall where her parents worked and where she grew up (mostly). The Mall Manager greets her and hands her a bag with several items in it; items that were once hers and were purchased at the Mall. With the feel of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or A Christmas Carol, Tessa begins to relive moments in her life through the seemingly simple trinkets in the bag. Tessa’s journey leads her to a new understanding of herself and her place in the world.
To think of your life story could be told through a series of everyday items is an interesting concept. In Heaven Looks A Lot Like a Mall, Mass does just that through 16 year-old Tessa’s life, as told in verse. From a baby shoe to a sticker that says, “I gave today” to a prom dress, all the items in a bag that is handed to her represents a defining moment in Tessa’ life. With narrative sequentiality, each item from the bag begins a new poem that relives the corresponding moment in Tessa’s life that ultimately leads up to the accident in gym class. Through Tessa’s reliving of these events, her character is well developed as more and more of her is revealed in the dramatic situations that unfold. Tessa’s near-death experience gives younger readers an opportunity to reflect on their own past, while giving hope for the future. As evidenced from this exchange between Tessa and her guide, Nail Boy:
“I bet if you go through the rest
of your life telling yourself,
you’ll have a whole different energy
I chuckle. “If I have a rest of my life, that is.”
He leans forward and locks
his eyes with mine.
“I’m going to tell you a secret.
Our lives are shaped by the future,
not by the past. Once you decide
how you want your life to be,
all you need to do
is live into that future.”
Then quietly he asks,
“If you have a rest of your life,
What are you going to do differently?”
He reaches out to touch my hand
and when he does,
it’s like a jolt of electricity
passes between us. I look up,
and into his eyes, and I think,
I’m sparkling. I sparkle.
And then I answer,
“The next time a dodgeball
is fired at my head,
I’m going to catch it.”
Modeling a portion of this book, have students tell a story in verse about a defining moment in their life.
Use Heaven Looks a Lot Like a Mall, Pieces of Georgia, Becoming Joe Dimaggio, and Jump Ball: A Season in Poems as book club choices for an ESL class.