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on October 18, 2007
Imagine a fluorescent orange dodgeball. A dodgeball doesn't do a lot of damage...or does it? Now picture it hurling toward you at rapid speed, and you are glued to the floor, unable to move. Then you're hit, falling to the ground and blacking out. You think you are dead, but you're not, since you're at your favorite mall where you spent most of your time over the years. You have a chance so you can see some choices you made to lead to the mall. This is what happened to Tessa Reynolds, who is the main character in Heaven Looks a Lot like the Mall, by Wendy Mass, which was published just one month ago. Here is the opening paragraph to the novel:

"For fifty cents and a Gobstopper,
I lifted my shirt for the neighborhood boys.
My oldest brother Matt caught us
and chased the boys with a Wiffle bat.
Word got around, and at nine years old
I became the girl
other girls' moms
didn't want them to play with."

This book is unusual because it is written in verse. Normally that would be a story that I'd think it was boring, but this is written and a very simple, easy to follow way. I thought of this like going from elementary school to middle school. Elementary school was okay, but still enjoyable. Middle school is new, different, and more exciting. When I read the first few chapters, I paid attention to the verse often. After a while, I got caught up into the plot, and forgot about the format, written in verse.

"Nail Boy starts taking each object
out of the bag and lining them up
on the counter.

"A white fluffy teddy bear with a red bow around the neck..."
"A box of assorted crayons..."
"A roll of toilet paper..."

"Before me is an odd assortment of my stuff,
most of which I haven't seen or thought of
in years. `What's so special
about these particular things?'

"He holds up the bag. `I'm giving you a chance
to visit the choices you made. The choices
that led you here and-`

`I'm here because someone
fired a dodgeball at my head.'"

This passage shows Tessa discovering the bag of items she bought from the mall. The author's creativity connected the items in the bag to choices Tessa made up to the present. At first, the objects are obscure and innocuous, but Tessa, as well as the readers, soon find their significance. She finds that each item is also related to a store in the mall and to an event in her life. Another reason I loved this book is because of the chapter titles, which related the items with the store Tessa bought it from. Also, on the cover, the author used actual store fonts for the words! Even if the ending in much anticipated and the theme was obvious, I still enjoyed this book so much. Wendy Mass does a wonderful job making the readers feel for Tessa, even id she's not always the most likable person.
In the end, Tessa reevaluated her life when she woke up from her coma from all her mistakes and right actions, knew she should become a better person. She also answered her Big Question, which was "why didn't I duck when the ball came at me?" Tessa knew that there are consequences for her actions, and that she would now live her life differently, yet better.

I strongly recommend this book
because of the chapter titles, the
verse forms, the connections
of ordinary objects, but
most of all,
it's so funny!

It's your choice to
duck when a dodgeball
is hurling towards you,
or do nothing
at
all.
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on September 1, 2007
When 16-year-old Tessa sees the orange dodgeball flying at her from across her high school gym, it never even occurs to her to duck. Soon after, she finds herself floating towards heaven, which looks just like the mall where her parents work and where she has spent a good deal of her life.

She is led to the Lost and Found, where she is given a bag of items: items that she has taken home from the mall during her lifetime, and each item takes her on a journey to her past. She relives several memories, many of which she'd rather forget, and she realizes that it is up to her to sort through her life up until the moment the dodgeball hits her and finally answer the most important question of all.

I really enjoyed HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL, and would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of stories like A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It is written in verse, but if that's not your thing, don't let it stop you! About a quarter of the way through the story I stopped noticing the verse because I was so engrossed in the story, and Wendy Mass does a wonderful job making the reader feel for Tessa, even if she's not always the most likeable person.

Whether you're looking for a fun summer read, an interesting verse novel, or a deeper story about life and death, you shouldn't miss HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL.

Reviewed by: Andie Z.
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on June 14, 2013
I wasn't really expecting to like this one as much as I did. It's not the most original of plots; there are similarities to both It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol (the latter of which is actually referenced in the story). But just because we know the basic gist of how things are going to play out doesn't take away from the individual, unique experiences of Tessa's life that have shaped who she is.

Tessa is less of the stereotypical mean girl you'd expect in a story like this and more of a complex, real teenager. Her "evil" deeds don't slap you in the face all at once, and even when she's talking about how her moral compass is broken, you realize that it's not *that* broken if she can see that there are things about herself that need improving.

The pace and story structure worked well. We're thrown into the action right away, with Tessa contemplating what's going to happen when that dodgeball (currently flying through the air) hits her head. Much of the rest of the story is told in flashbacks, from babyhood to the junior prom. Tessa's life is pretty unremarkable, but I think that's part of what makes the book work. You can relate to a girl who's not drop-dead gorgeous, who has issues with her parents and brother, who's neither rich nor poor, who's an average student, and who's made some mistakes either out of immaturity or stupidity. It was refreshing, especially in a world of YA fiction that's often populated by a perfect, gorgeous girl and her otherworldly problems.

That's not to say there wasn't some otherworldly stuff going on here. Tessa's near-death experience, in which she finds herself in a near-facsimile of her local mall, complete with a mysterious boy who guides her through the experience, is an interesting take on the trope. I thought the mall setting might be a little fluffy but, surprisingly, all the brand name dropping didn't really take anything away from the gravity of the story and its message.

If there was any weak part for me, it would probably be the ending. Some parts of it seemed a little too pat and corny. But Tessa was a character I could believe would take something away from the experience, so I can overlook the rather quick turnaround and an ending that felt a little rushed.

All in all, it was an enjoyable book, with deep messages about self-worth and honesty that were cloaked behind a seemingly fluffy plot device and setting. Plus, it's written in free verse, so it doesn't take long to get through -- which is great if you want a quick afternoon read!
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on October 23, 2007
Are you in the market for a great read? Well, if you are, then look no further than Heaven is A Lot like the Mall by Wendy Mass. This newly released fictional novel takes the reader on a near death experience with the main character Tess. Tess is a high school junior who has really been letting good life experiences pass her by, and in the process, has failed to figure out who she truly is as a person. In the tradition of Dickens' Christmas Carol, Tess has to maneuver her way through heaven's mall to remember and uncover the meaning of her life thus far with only a bag full of objects and a boy with a gruesome head injury for guidance. This book was nonstop read as I wanted to know what each item in Tess' shopping bag represented. It was also fun to relate to some of Tess' memories; like a first hair cut, making and losing friends, and shopping for prom dresses. Mass' poetic style also made the book a quick read, but not necessarily an easy one. The reader really had an opportunity to dig beneath the surface and try to understand the lessons life teaches. For readers who enjoy a deeper meaning to a story, but also one depicted with a great style and sense of humor, than Tess and her celestial mall is the book for you!
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on January 12, 2010
The only author I know who writes in verse is Sonya Sones, but I haven't read anything by her in a long time, so it's interesting to pick up something poetically styled.

When Tessa gets knocked out by a dodge-ball in gym class, she finds herself in Heaven, which looks a lot like her mall. She drifts in and out of the mall, not knowing whether she's dead or in a coma. Nail Boy, who's supposed to be her guide through Mall Heaven, suddenly appears in her reality/coma state and unplugs the oxygen tank. That's when Tessa gets a chance too look at how her life has been since her birth, the things she's done, and the choices she's made.

It's A Christmas Carol kind of topic where the main character is a pretty unlikable person and has done some bad things in the past. And don't forget the Ghost of the Past, who's the one that takes the main character through her early years and lets her see what happened that turned things around. Even though it's not an original storyline, I simply loved it. Who doesn't like revisiting the past and looking at all the wrongs you've made and wishing you could make it all better with a time machine? I think about the time machine practically ten times a day where I try to envision how the "perfect scenario" could have been played out.

I can't say much about the verse because I'm not much of a poetry person, but even I know it flows. It still maintains the essentials of a good book, but more condensed so that nothing is just a "detail" anymore, but a line that connects everything. You still get the Tessa's opinionated voice and a bit of her attitude. If written in novel format, I probably wouldn't have liked at as much as I do now. The character is pretty blunt and straightforward, so it's suitable to match the character with verse.

Although the beginning is kind of awkward, because it seems weird that Tessa actually sees herself getting knocked out by a dodge ball and then floats to Heaven, and it says she doesn't really notice herself. I don't know--that doesn't make sense to me. But, once the book shifts to Tessa's past, it gets so much better. The author does an amazing job of getting the reader to sympathize with the character, and making sure that readers REALLY understand why everything is the way it is. Just like that guy who turned Mr. Scrooge into a good man at the end. You get the gist. Just that this is less elderly, more teenager-y with angst and real-life situations mixed with bad decision-making.

This is divided in three sections: Tessa's elementary school days, middle school, and high school. My favorite section is probably elementary school and middle school. Every chapter--with a store's name, like Sephora, etc.--details why Tessa is the girl she is today, and it's so heartbreaking/incredibly funny to read because of the things she's done in the past. Most people don't remember what they're like as kids, but I'm sure none of us were angels. And that's Tessa. She's lied, she's stolen, she's smoked, and etc. During the entire time I was reading the book, my heart just went out to the girl. She's made so many mistakes, but it's not the kind that makes you say, "God, what a stupid thing to do." It's the kind that makes you say, "I know why you did it. I probably would have done the same thing." Because given the situation, the age, and how you've been raised (with a mother who's constantly criticizing how you look and eat, who wouldn't go nuts with lies and rebellion?) you really would have done it without another thought. That's what makes this book so heartbreaking: sometimes, you wish you could have stuck to your moral thoughts and done the right thing, but most of the time, you end up doing the complete opposite. Not because you're a hateful person, but because it's so hard to be right all the time. The author has really captured Tessa's character. If I put myself in her shoes, there's a 90% chance that I'd react the same way as her. I might not have smoked, but I would've stolen Rick's eggs to get that A, and I would've pretended I didn't know anything when I broke the green crayon. But who knows? Maybe that's exactly what I did back when I was 6, 7, 8 years old.

Wendy Mass is an exceptional YA author. Even if she's not on the bestselling list, all of her novels have been great. She likes to write about things that aren't of the norm, which is so refreshing that you can't help but love and learn from her books. And authors, like actors, should always test themselves with challenges. (First the topic of synesthesia in her debut novel, then her Leap Year plot with multiple POVs, and now, something in verse.) This book took her two years to complete because of the verse, so I'm hoping her next imaginative tale won't take nearly as long.
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on February 8, 2015
I chose this rating because I really like this book and other books that Wendy Mass has wrote to. I think this book is very inspiring and that how it says just because you have done a lot of bad things in life doesn't mean you can't make it better.
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on June 21, 2011
HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL is a terrific novel-in-verse about a teen girl who gets hit by a dodgeball and injured and finds her life (at the mall!) flashing before her eyes. My 7th grade girls recommended this one to me, and I loved it just as much as they did!
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on November 30, 2015
Wendy Mass did a great job on this book as she always does. I love to read her books because they are so inspirational and make me feel like I can do anything. I think it is a close tie between this and the Willow falls series. And that is alot because I read the seies and then reread it and then re-reread it just for fun. If you enjoyed this book like I did read the Willow falls series. If you think think this book was a little confusing like I did at first then still read the Willow falls series because if you read them in order it all ties together. Wendy Mass is gifted and shares it with the world if you don't like her books thats okay but for me after I pick it up I can't stop. Wendy Mass please write more books like this possibly adding on to the Willow falls series because I sure would love to read more about Amanda,Leo,Rory,Tara,David,and Grace.
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on December 20, 2014
I liked the beginning of the book. I feel like you really get to know Tessa's character. You understand who she is, even before her life turns upside down. I like how you can tell, throughout her memories, why she is how she is. She was hard because she built a wall around herself. She wouldn't let herself believe that other people could like her, and in doing that she lost her sparkle. She lost herself. So many of her memories, years later, showcased over the bad. The bad had overshadowed the good that was hiding away. She believed that when people acted in ways that she didn't understand, it was because they did not like her. She didn't look, deep down, into herself and others. She only skimmed the surface.
I would recommend this book to people struggling on their social life because it really gives you an inside to how others feel, and how to open yourself up to the good and the bad. This was an amazing story, awkward at times but totally realistic. -Anne
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on April 28, 2015
Heaven looks a lot like the mall is probably one of my good reads. Tessa is just a regular girl not smart, not athletic who attends high school. She’s had an interesting life with her parents owning the local mall and her not being the brightest person in school and among her peers. In one of her least favorite classes, gym, she gets dodged in the face by a flying volleyball. The ball comes towards her head in such force that she collapses and immediately goes into an extreme coma. While in her coma she’s on her way to heaven or as she sees it, the mall. She arrives at her parent’s mall and notices a weird boy with a nail in his head. He introduces himself as “drill bit boy”. He hands her a bag of things from Tessa’s lifetime. As she looks through the bag each item was a reminder of each year of her life. From her mom giving her highlights at the age of 1 to her junior year prom disaster she journeys through her lifetime. Surrounded by her items from her lifetime Tessa realizes and thinks about how she could of lived her life differently. Does Tessa come out of her coma or does she stay in her mall fantasy while the coma forever? This book takes you on a journey of the life of Tessa and this book was probably one of my favorites by the author Wendy Mass. I recommend you read this astonishing book.
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