The Five People You Meet in Heaven

There is a reason this book was on the New York Times Best Seller List for 95 weeks. When it came out almost ten years ago I remember the fuss, but I never read it. My sister brought it home about a week ago from a pile of “To Share” books at work and tossed it into my lap.

(I see how it is. You just want to read to the review on here to see if it’s good, then you might read it after that.)

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, revolves around a man named Eddie. Eddie is old and grumpy. His wife is dead, he never got along with his father, and he hates his job as a maintenence worker at Ruby Pier, an amusement park that he has been stuck at his entire life. He checks the rides every day and occasionally makes balloon animals for children who ask. One day, one of the rides breaks and Eddie tries to save a little girl who is underneath the falling car. When he wakes up, he is young, full of energy, and can run around this new world that he discovers is actually someone else’s heaven.

In the afterlife, Eddie travels to other peoples’ heavens…specifically five people that had a great impact on his life. The first is the Blue Man, one of the ‘freaks’ in the Ruby Pier show of Eddie’s childhood. The Blue Man explains some of the rules of heaven – how Eddie will travel and what he can expect. He also learns the first lesson of the afterlife: that everyone is connected somehow. He continues traveling and meets the four other people that had the greatest impact on his life. There’s his formy army captian,  and Ruby (who teaches him about his father), then his late wife Marguerite, and finally a young girl named Tala who was killed during World War II while Eddie was a soldier. Each person he meets along the way has a new lesson for him and plays a part in Eddie’s understanding of his life. He must come to terms with everything that happened over his lifetime before he learns whether or not he saved the girl from the ride at Ruby Pier.

This book was a fantastic read, and I think anyone who picks it up will truly enjoy it. It shows that everyone is connected somehow, in some way, and that every action in life has some sort of a consequence.

The School of Essential Ingredients

I’ve never read a book about cooking before, except, you know, a cook book, but The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister was a fantastic read. The prose was beautiful, elegant, and rich. I know this sounds like it’s leading to a terrible metaphor comparing cooking and the elements of a story (mix them together, blend gently, folded into the story…) but I really loved this book.

Lillian owns a restaurant and teaches cooking classes on Monday nights once a month. There are eight students, and each chapter revolves around one of the students. The book opens with Lillian’s story, explaining why she loves to cook. As she grew up, she used cooking to connect with her mom and draw her out of her shell, guided by Abuelita, who is a neighborhood shop owner who teaches her certain cooking lessons. Much of Lillian’s “training” comes from experiments she does on her own. She learns to cook without following recipes but going with her intuition and mixing ingredients based on what emotions she wants to create.

Each following chapter then takes one of the students and digs deeper into their story. There is a young girl trying to define her life, a mother who doens’t remember who she is without her children, and a man who lost his wife to breast cancer, to name a few. The stories begin to intertwine with each other as the classes continue and the students get to know each other. A romantic relationship forms between two of the students and unlikely friendships develop.

The interesting thing about the classes is that Lillian doesn’t actually teach her students how to make meals. She splits up tasks and sends them off with vague instructions, leaving them to become comfortable with their own intuition – how long the wine needs to simmer for the sauce, or how long the butter and sugar need to be blended for a white cake.

I would recommend this book to those who like cooking, reading about cooking, or just want to read something beautiful. This book made me wonder if any of the cooking instructions could be followed based on Bauermeister’s description…

Sophomore Switch

Sophomore Switch, by Abby McDonald, was a quick, enjoyable teen read.

 Dubbed “chick lit” by some, this book followed two sophomore girls in college who switch places through an exchange program to try out new lives. Emily, the studious control-freak from Britain, trades places with Tasha, a girl recovering from partying too hard in California. Both girls were accepted at the last minute into the program, and neither received the school they were expecting.

Emily tried to escape a bad break up and an overbearing father, and although she was disappointed not to have been placed at an Ivy League school, she was ready for a chance to loosen up in California. She was placed in all of Tasha’s classes and although she thinks being a film major is not challenging in the least, she is surprised to find herself enjoying writing scripts and directing a movie for a class project. Her partner for the project happens to be a very cute boy…who is her new roommate’s ex-boyfriend. She tries to navigate the California dating scene and on the way, learns how to follow her own dreams, not the pressure from her family.

Tasha was a crazy partier in California, running away after an embarrassing incident caught on camera with a teen celebrity. She feels like she’s in a different world in Oxford and must learn how to navigate heavy textbooks write essays in a single day. Under the guidance of a professor who, if you’re lucky, will give you a C, Tasha joins a group on campus to save the local women’s center. Her cute tutor helps her in classes and she starts to find her own way in this foreign world, discovering that maybe she doesn’t always need a boy at her side or a party on Friday night to look forward to.

In the end, the emails exchanged between Tasha and Emily bring them together at the end of their semesters to talk about how much they’ve changed. They both have learned more about who they want to be, and look forward to their next years in college.

This book was a quick read and fun to follow. Although there was not a lot of depth and the story was fairly predictable, it was a good summer story. I would recommend this to anyone who likes teen fiction and stories about changing in college.