Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson


Reviewed by Christine-Chioma

Published: 2012

It's about
: Stephanie Nielson (NieNie) is a famous Mommy-blogger whose life changed dramatically when she and her husband were in a serious near-fatal plane crash which left 80% of her body burned. The memoir chronicles her life before the crash and her struggles to deal with the aftermath of it

I thought: I actually started reading NieNie's blog back in the days when she went by the alias of "Gracie J. Brunswick". I was captivated by her ability to make every day life seem magical, romantic and beautiful.  The same talent comes across in her book. NieNie's describes her mostly idyllic childhood with gratitude and awe. As she describes her child's first birth, I could feel her love for her children and her role as a mother. Although she is positive, she is not unrealistic about the more difficult parts of her life. It's never sappy, corny, or predictable. It is a story of hope and courage, but included in her memoir are also her fear and despair. She describes her depression and guilt for getting on the plane and other difficult emotions and adjustments. I typically do not like books that are described as inspiring, but I really enjoyed this one. I really appreciated her honesty, because sometimes memoirs paint a picture of un-relatable saint, but NieNie comes across as very real and human.

With much criticism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the media today, it was refreshing to hear NieNie's point of view and to see how she applied her beliefs and principles. Although I am a member myself, I tried to take a step back and think of the accessibility of the book to someone who isn't familiar with the church at all. NieNie does a great job of explaining Mormon terminology and culture. She is very firm in her faith and testimony, but nothing in her writing comes across as preachy or written for the intent to convert. It is clear that her faith is a natural part of herself. Her relationship with God is her rock. While people may not be able to relate to her beliefs, the humanity, struggles and triumphs are relatable and they are at the forefront of this book. One thing that's pointed out in the book is that most of her blog readers have dramatically different lives and views than hers, but still appreciate the glimpses into her life. It kept me captivated--I read it in literally one day.

Each section of the book has pictures of NieNie and her family and I think it really helps to see her physical transformation from before the crash to after. You can watch a clip of her on Oprah and a video the Mormon church did of her story.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf! 

Reading Recommendations: Share copies with friends?

Warnings: None. She alludes to sex but never anything even bordering on inappropriate.

Favorite excerpts:

"One nurse was planning a wedding, and so we talked about her wedding dress and the plans she was making. Another was expecting a baby, and I asked about her doctor's appointments. I genuinely liked to hear about their lives outside the hospital...However, when it was time for their shift to end, I had to adjust to the miserable realization that they actually were going to lead the lives we'd talked about."

"Our accident had been my mother's worse fear. She had warned us of the danger of flying and even begged me not to get in a small airplane. I knew I had broken her heart on that day in August. When she came to visit, I dried my tears and took a deep breath so I could smile when she walked in the room. It was worth the effort to see her shoulders relax and the crease in her forehead disappear."

"My brothers and sisters loved me like they always had, and despite all the upheavals in my physical and emotional life, they reminded me of the one thing that had always mattered most in my life: what it means to belong to a family."

"Those precious, beautiful children didn't deserve a disfigured, incapable mother. They needed someone strong, who could take care of them no matter what. Seeing them, and the way they looked at me, destroyed any hope I'd harbored that I could take care of them again. I was inadequate in every way, and they didn't even want to look at me."

What I'm reading next: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving