Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review: Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson

Title: Heaven is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy
Author: Stephanie Nielson
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 90

I didn't want to read this book. I thought I already knew Stephanie Nielson, and knew her story. I've read her blog from time to time, and read her sister's blog, and while I felt bad for what she must have felt, as a mother, to suffer such terrible injuries, and admired the way she didn't shrink from putting herself back in the public spotlight after her accident, I wouldn't say I was her greatest fan. I found her blog by turns too Pollyannaish and too focused on the "things" in her life. I didn't think her family could possibly be as awesome and perfect as she made them out to be. I found myself cringing at they way she called her husband "Mr. Nielson."

But last week, this book somehow made its way into my Amazon shopping cart. And within two days, I'd read the whole thing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not someone who usually reads "inspirational" memoirs, especially I've they're published by Deseret Book. I always think I'm going to be preached to. In fact, I'd be much more likely to read and love something like Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, where the inspirational character isn't Mormon, than when the character is. I'm not sure why that is...

Anyway, Nielson is much more honest and real than I expected her to be in her memoir. The first few chapters, the "before" part, seemed to confirm all of my prejudices. Stephanie wasn't academically ambitious, she liked pretty things, and she seemed like so many of the Mormon girls I met in my wards when we lived in Minnesota and Saint Louis and Texas-- constantly pining for Utah and their families and their mommies.

And then came the tragic plane crash that burned 80% of her body and put her in a coma for three months. I expected the book to continue in much the same vein-- of course Stephanie wanted to live, and to get back with those babies, so she worked hard and never complained and within a few months she was doing better than ever-- she even had a baby! And that is what happened, but not how it happened. What surprised me is that Nielson doesn't shy away from talking about how hard it was for her, particularly how hard it was to look at herself in the mirror and to rebuild her relationship with her children, who didn't want to look at her. The fabulous Mr. Nielson and the extended family still come off as pretty darn perfect, but I'm more inclined now to think that maybe they are.

One of the things that I admired most is the way that Nielson lives the gospel. She doesn't just believe it-- it's part of her whole existence. It's the reason why she's so close to her extended family, who took over in the months when she and Christian were recovering. It's the reason why she was able to come out with a stronger relationship with her husband when 80% of couples in similar situations can't weather the strain. It's the reason why she fought for her relationship with her children. It's the reason why she lived and found herself on the top of a mountain one year later.

So I am, at long last, a NieNie convert. I can't promise that I'll read her blog every day, but I do admire her strength, and even more than that, her willingness to go to the hard places in telling her story.


Lorie said...

I might actually read this book after reading your review. I hadn't been interested in reading it due to her blogs saccharin nature.

By the way, we sure loved saying hi to "Shelah's Mom" all week at our YW Conference. She is a neat lady and fairly easy to spot in a group of 900.

Good luck with Rose's teething.

EmJen said...

I read this book this week as well, hoping it would give more insight into how she grew in faith and in their family relationships. Like you, I was impressed with much of her explanations and strengths, but had a hard time with the fact that she didn't talk about the two stories the emerged from the plane crash, the one of Christian rescuing her while having a broken back (both recorded on her blog, but then later removed, and told on Oprah (still there)) against the story of her finding herself terrifyingly left alone (the story told in the book and newspapers accounts). I can understand that memory can be a silly thing, but I had hoped she would have at least acknowledged the discrepancy and perhaps told why, but nothing. And sadly, that makes me less inclined to trust her memoir.