Jacquelyn Mitchard

"All We Know of Heaven” by Jacquelyn Mitchard is a novel of two best friends in a accident ending ones life and nearly ending the others. One might be turned off by this plot, but the interest comes in when the girls are mixed up by hospital staff. We follow Maureen as she struggles to fight for her life back. We feel the frustration as she cannot say words with ease as she had in the past. Maureen struggles with regaining herself, balancing school, a boyfriend and losing her best friend all the while trying not to give up on life. The title, “All We Know of Heaven” capturers one’s attention as a story of a story of two girls mixed in death unveils. This novel allows the reader to explore the question, “ What if everyone thought I were dead, who would be there for me?”. We follow Maureen’s journey as she believes she is dead looking at herself at her funeral when in actuality it is her in the coma, not Bridget. This novel takes a raw look at life after death.
Jacquelyn Mitchard is no stranger to death as her beloved husband lost his struggle to cancer leaving her and two children behind. She calls upon the struggle her family and herself faced in the absence of someone they loved. She evokes the emotions felt at loss and inscribes them in each of her characters. As our face is wet from tears and our heart broken, our only solitude is found in the comfort of success. Her belief in building strong, independent woman is found in the character Maureen.
The symbolism found in “All we know of heaven” enhances the novel in several ways. After the tragic accident leaving her mentally disabled and her best friend dead Maureen struggles to regain the person she used to be. Her accident leaves her unable to walk, but with rehab and determination Maureen relies heavily on her cane for independent transformation. The cane is headed by a metal lion. Generally, lions are thought to be physically and mentally strong and able. The ultimate symbol of courage. Lions are the top of their domain. This cane symbolizes Maureen’s path to become that lion. In order to lead a normal life she needs courage like a lion. The cane which Maureen uses to walk symbolizes independence. The fact she walked was a miracle enough, but even when she gained the strength to walk she was still too weak to walk alone. She leans upon her cane for moments she is not strong enough to walk on her own. The cane is found in several scenes of the novel. The cane represents not only her physical weakness but also her mental. The cane is found through some of her weakest moments. Such as when she struggles with getting teased in school, finding the will to live and struggling to re gain her brain function. We see the cane slowly disappear as she gains strength for herself. The cane is thrown to the ground as she stands up to Bridget’s conniving sister, at the same moment she admits that “ Bridget was the one who crossed the yellow line, it was her fault”. This moment is significant because up until then she was accepting the abuse. She had never told anyone before that it was Bridget who made the mistake, not her. She no longer had to lean on her invisible crutch. she possessed the power to stand up for herself. She wasn’t going to live in blame forever. Maureen’s ultimate test of her independence comes when Maureen decides to go away, alone to boarding school to study music away from her support system. And again when she announces that she will be attending the University of Wisconsin. The author, Jacquelyn Mitchard purposely adds that “The cane lay untouched in her closet at home..” to symbolize the full circle of healing.
Another symbol found in “All We Know of Heaven” is the rose bushes planted at Bridget’s grave. The biggest obstacle Maureen faces after the traumatic accident and switch up is Bridget’s family. The Flannery’s lived in a state of depression and blamed Maureen’s family for their misgivings. Accusing them of insensitivity. Kitt Flannery , Bridget’s mother struggles the most as she places her agony on Maureen. Kitt gives Maureen the most grief as she physically attacks and verbally abuses Maureen at Bridget’s graveyard. She works to bruise her self image revealing her brutal thoughts “ You should be dead, You shouldn’t be in school. You disgust people. The sight of you disgusts me. You couldn’t be Bridget in a million years.” (229) Emotions are tied into this scene. A person who has the audacity to make those statements must truly be in mental fault, and that is when we understand not only Mrs. Flannery but also Kitt. Mrs. Flannery even goes as far as keying and smashing in all the windows of Maureen’s new car. Kitt talks badly of Maureen in public as well as her family. The crushing blow to Maureen is that this woman was practically her mother when Bridget was alive. Dramatic scenes such as these improve the novel by allowing the reader to feel as Maureen does. As Maureen struggles with the attacks of the Flannery mother and children, we feel the despair. When we feel the lowest of lows with Maureen her triumphs only feel just as great. By the end of the novel Sarah, Bridget’s younger sister and also biggest daunter of Maureen plants two rose bushes at Bridget’s gravestone. One for Bridget, and one for Maureen. The rose bushes represent the forgiveness given to Maureen by the Flannery family. It is their symbolic acceptance of their daughter’s death and the approval of Maureen to thrive in her second chance at life. The pink roses in fact do not bloom until Maureen and Danny re visit the gravestone after making peace with themselves, Maureen’s peace with herself, the accident and the world around her. Forgiven is only given to those who have earned it.
Overall, the novel is one of empowerment. It calls upon the need for independence and the gift found I struggle. A story that can be related to all people this “chick lit” touches lives. Although it is highly doubtful students will be mandated to read this novel in English classrooms, it is still one might pick up for recreation. It is an enjoyable feel- good read leaving any one with a heart inspired and blessed. “Life keeps moving on..”
H.U 2011