Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson

Published by: Hyperion Voice
Published on: April 3, 2012
Page Count: 310
Genre: Memoir
My Reading Format: Hardcover book mailed to me by publisher
Available Formats: Hardcover, Amazon Kindle edition

Note: I guess I've been living under a rock because I was completely unfamiliar with Stephanie Neilson and her story before starting this book. I have never read her blog and didn't see her appearance on Oprah. I had never heard about the accident. When I got the opportunity to review the book, I decided to leave myself in the dark until after my review was written. So I will now look up her blog and learn more about her. I just wanted to let the outside influences stay outside, and let my lack of prior knowledge of Stephanie stay that way so I could simply enjoy and review her book.

My Review:

Stephanie Nielson, a wife and mom, had the kind of life she'd always dreamed of. She and husband Christian were raising their four children in the Mormon tradition. Christian enjoyed a successful career, which allowed Stephanie to be with their children, create a beautiful home for them, and cook dinner each night. Even when she and her family moved from Utah to New Jersey to a house grossly misrepresented in the photos she saw from thousands of miles away, and in a neighborhood where people had lived for decades without knowing their neighbors, Stephanie remained happy. While in New Jersey she began blogging to keep her far-away family apprised of the Nielsons' daily goings-on and to give herself a creative outlet. To her surprise, her blog audience grew beyond the friends and family she'd left behind in Utah, and strangers read regularly and posted comments. 

Stephanie continued to blog as her family moved to Arizona for Christian's job. When Christian had earned his pilot's license, Stephanie was thrilled to accompany Christian and a friend on a flight. Something went wrong on this flight and it crashed, burning Christian on 40% of his body and Stephanie on 80% of hers. Though their friend initially survived the crash, he later died as a result of his serious injuries. 

Here the book takes a dramatic turn. The wonderful home life Stephanie enjoyed has been traded for months in a medically-induced coma, followed by excruciating therapy and surgeries at the burn unit of the hospital. Her parents and siblings remained by her side, but Stephanie was reluctant to let Christian see her changed appearance, but even he did before Stephanie summoned up the courage to look in the mirror at her own reflection. Stephanie's four young children didn't see her for months, and when they finally did, Stephanie started the process of rebuilding her relationship with them to regain their trust and love.   

This book outlines the unbelievably difficult journey Stephanie took to regain her health, her appearance (though she is forever changed), and her family life. The emotional roller coaster she traveled was recounted in brutal honesty. Though the first part of the book outlined a happy woman in a happy home with her loving family, she didn't hide the fact that after the accident she was devastated to see the changes in her body, her family situation and relationships, and in herself as a person. Understandably, upon waking from her coma and becoming aware of the treatments and surgeries she's been undergoing and would continue to endure, Stephanie's spirit sunk as low as it possibly could. While she doesn't wallow in her own self-pity, she's suffered so much physical and mental trauma that it takes her a while to decide to live again and to do it fully. She makes a choice to return to her former life, however difficult it might be to get there, and knowing that her life will never truly be as it was before the accident. 

Stephanie describes in detail how a positive turn of events would give her a boost, but then when she hadn't progressed as far medically as she'd hoped, or she felt rejected by her children, she took a few steps back. Though it takes a while for her determination to show up and stick with her, she began to set goals for herself, however large or small, and gain momentum as she started achieving them. 

This book is a powerful statement about the capabilities of the human spirit. Stephanie describes her highs and her lows in brutal honesty, and describes her body, its injuries and its progress in great detail. Much of this book is difficult to read (descriptions of the crash scene and medical procedures will stick with me for a while), but I couldn't put the book down. I had to keep reading to know what happened and how Stephanie got there (though I assumed things worked out since a book came out of her experiences). This is one of the best and most honest memoirs I've read in a while. 

Many thanks to Voice for the complimentary review copy.

1 comment:

  1. This is the most heartrending and emotionally engaging book I've read in a very long time. Stephanie Nielson speaks first-hand of the most unimaginable trauma the human body can endure--near death by fire--and makes it agonizingly real.

    Heaven is Here was a difficult book to read, yet I could not put it down. I felt I was there with Stephanie at every moment, heart racing and stomach churning. From the terrifying plane crash and harrowing months of treatment and therapy through her slow and ongoing recovery, her journey became my journey.

    What a wonderful gift Stephanie has given us with this terrifying and beautiful memoir. Her message of hope, determination, and love, in spite of the very worst of circumstances, has given me renewed joy in my own life as I realize how insignificant my petty complaints are and how boundless my blessings.