By Todd Burpo
Reviewed by Mickie Zoratti, Diocese of Buffalo
You have seen the bright yellow cover, heard the buzz, and perhaps have an inkling of the controversy surrounding the #1 New York Times bestseller Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Even during this busy holiday season you will be happy you set aside time for this 150 page easy to read book. The novella, written in first person by Todd Burpo*, relates the true story of his four-year old son, Colton, who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness, enters heaven and then returns to earth to resume the daily activities of a normal toddler.
As the story unfolds, we witness the anger, anguish and guilt of the Burpo family as they cope with the misdiagnosis of their son’s ruptured appendix and fear for his survival. Against all odds and after multiple surgeries, Colton miraculously survives. The caliber of the miracle, however, is not known until months later when Colton nonchalantly proffers details about heaven. Over the course of the next seven years, he reveals more particulars of his heavenly sojourn and, in so doing, exhibits preternatural knowledge of things and events beyond the scope or experience level of a child. He describes relatives who have passed long before his birth, as well as personal interactions among deceased family members. It is at this point that the reader is subtly invited to contemplate the mystery of what has transpired in the Burpo family.
The story, told in short chapters, is straightforward and the language is simple. Quite often, biblical text appears to support Colton’s revelations. An example of this can be found in Chapter 18 when Colton describes God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16). In spite of the author’s almost unbelievable account of events, I found it possible to take the story seriously because of the humility and circumspection of his narration throughout the book.
Controversy may ensue when readers use the book as a primary basis for theological discussions about God and the afterlife, or they overanalyze what was clearly a life-altering experience for the Burpo family. It is a sweet story of the love of parents for their child, the care a community shows its members in times of trouble and the mystery of God’s unending grace. You will, most likely, find the story uplifting and full of hope.
As a teacher, I encourage students to make text-to-life connections to what they have read. As I witnessed my mother struggle through her final hours this past July, I prayed for her peaceful passing and a joyful reunion in the Kingdom of God. If anything, the book comforted and reaffirmed my religious beliefs. I am glad I set aside an afternoon to read it.
*Lynn Vincent, best known for Same Kind of Different as Me, co-authors the novel.