Book Discussion Series: Heaven

***JUST SO YOU KNOW*** All of the posts in our book discussion series contain questions and reviews that could possibly reveal parts of the plot you may rather discover by reading the book.  Proceed with caution!***

The Book Discussion Series enhances the reading experience by providing a list of interpretive questions compiled by librarians of the Cleveland Heights Univeristy Heights Public Library

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Angela Johnson is not to be underestimated.  She has a very caring way of depicting characters in very difficult, sometimes dangerous situations. I don’t mean ‘dark alley’ kind of dangerous, but more like the kind of danger that, without some interpretation or way to deal with it leaves you with a very colored, possibly very jaded view of the world.  For instance, in this book, fourteen-year-old Marley’s seemingly perfect life in the small town of Heaven is disrupted when she discovers that her father and mother are not her real parents.  That’s some pretty serious danger.  Ms.  Johnson most recently was given a Newbery honor in 2008 for another fabulous book, Feathers. You will find reading anything by her rewarding if not personally moving.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think the book is titled Heaven?  Why do you think the author named the town where the story takes place, Heaven?  What is heavenly about the town?  What isn’t?  
  • What is the significance of the postcard on the park bench?  What does it tell you about Marley’s family that they would move just because of a postcard and because of the name of a town?
  • Marley and her family have found Heaven and stayed there, but her Uncle Jack cannot seem to stay put.  Why do you think he travels around so much?  Is he running away from something?  Looking for something?
  • Let’s talk about secrets. Who in this book has secrets?  (Momma, Pops, Uncle Jack, Shoogy, Bobby)?  What are their secrets?  Does anyone not have secrets?  Why does Marley not want to ask people about their secrets?  Do you like to know people’s secrets?
  • What makes a family?  Do you agree with what Bobby says about people making too much of parentage?  (p. 42-43)  Do Marley’s parents love her any less than they would have if she had been their own daughter?
  • Who’s family is happier, Shoogy’s or Marley’s?  
  • Why is Shoogy so unhappy in her family?  Why do you think she cuts herself?  Why does she wear dark glasses and hats to make herself “ugly”?  How is she different from her family?  Does her family seem a little too perfect?
  • Why does Marley like Shoogy’s mom a little bit more when she finds out about the desperate cigarettes?
  • How does the truth about Marley’s parents change how she feels about her family?  Does it make much of a difference?  Does she love them any less?  Would you be angry at your parents if that happened to you?
  • Why do Pops and Jack name their dogs Boy over and over?
  • What are the significance of Marley’s dreams?  Jack’s dreams?  Do you think that dreams are important in life?  How are dreams important in a book?
  • What did you think of the format of this story?  How would you describe it? 
  • Why are letters important in this book?  Is Jack the only one writing letters?  What kind of person is he that he writes so many letters?  Who does he write letters to?
  • How many different kinds of fathers are there in the book?  What makes a good father?  Is Bobby a good father  Is Pops a good father?  Is Jack a good father?
  • What do you think of Marley’s parents’ decision not to tell her the truth about her birth parents?  Why do you think they made the decision? 
  • How do Marley’s parents react to her anger?  How do Marley’s friends react to her anger?
  • Who would you rather have as a friend: Marley, Shoogy or Bobby?  Why?
  • How are friendship and family portrayed in the book?  Which is stronger?  Which does Marley value more?
  • How would you describe Marley’s relationship with her brother?  How would you describe Shoogy’s relationship with her brothers?  Why and how are these relationships different?