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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Review: Heavenly new book comforts readers

The First Phone Call From Heaven

Written by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom, the bestselling author of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” is back in the spotlight with a quizzical tale that may make minds wonder if “the end is not the end.” “The First Phone Call from Heaven” has a different taste to it than is expected after reading Albom’s other works about life and death, such as “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” But at the same time, it is clear he stays true to himself and his touching, creative writing style in his latest spiritual tale.

After citizens in the small town of Coldwater, Mich., known as “the chosen ones,” claim they are receiving mysterious phone calls from their deceased acquaintances, love and faith are put to the ultimate test. The story begins with daycare owner Tess Rafferty listening to a message on her answering machine. In her mind, “a mother’s voice is like no other,” and that is how she knows the familiar voice she hears playing on her machine is indeed her mother, Ruth. Police Chief Jack Sellers receives calls from his son Robbie, a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. Sellers says it can’t be his son, but the voice he hears on the telephone makes him believe it could be.

The so-called “Coldwater Miracle” receives international attention and causes many believers to flock to the small town in the hopes of getting in contact with their deceased loved ones, but not everyone is sold on the idea. Sully Harding, who lost his wife Giselle in a car accident, thinks the entire “miracle” is a hoax. Harding opens up his own investigation in order to find out the truth behind the mysterious, unknown phone calls.

Upon beginning the book, readers would never guess Harding is the main character. But he later is revealed as an integral part of the story. By letting readers into Harding’s thoughts and including pieces of his tragic backstory, such as the termination of his job as a pilot and an undeserved 10-month prison sentence, Albom creates a complex character readers can sympathize with and relate to.

Albom weaves this fictional tale with remarkable precision that adds a twist to a typical Albom novel. The plot structure of the story has a style more commonly seen in theatrical productions, such as Stephen Schwartz’s “Pippin,” because Albom intertwines two storylines. He balances the story of the phone calls from heaven with the individual story of Harding without causing readers confusion.

The author also includes pieces of historical information by taking readers on a time-traveling journey from present day to the middle of the 19th century, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Albom braids pieces of history perfectly with the events happening in Coldwater and Harding’s life, satisfying readers with a history lesson in addition to a compelling story.

This moving novel has the power to make people think. Albom provides readers with an idea of what the other side is like, giving them something to have faith in without brainwashing. Ruth Rafferty comforts her daughter over the phone by saying, “Anger, regret, worry … They disappear once you are here.” Robbie Sellers tells his father, “It’s awesome. You don’t see things … you’re inside them.” Albom’s powerful storytelling ability allows a connection to be made with anyone who has ever lost someone. Though nothing can ever truly make the pain of losing a loved one cease, Albom does an exceptional job at connecting with readers who have personally experienced a loss and comforting them through the voices of the deceased characters.

By creating a mind-blowing storyline and intertwining a history lesson with a faith-filled story, Albom makes readers question what exactly they believe in. Though Albom’s style is slightly different than usual in this book, he’s ultimately true to himself by delivering another touching, one-of-a-kind story.