Heaven’s Open Book
by Sheldon Peart
My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fiction, theology
This short book is split into 2 parts. Part 1 contains 5 vignettes of life, focusing on 5 different pairs of people. In each pair, at least 1 is living some sort of Christian life. In the second half of the book, one of these characters has a vision of Heaven, where saints are able to look up their loved ones in Heaven’s Open Book, and if they did not make it to Heaven, find out what sins kept them out.
The difficulty in reviewing a book like this is that it’s difficult to sort out the different aspects and give it an honest rating that isn’t colored by anything besides the reading. As such, I have broken my thoughts about it down into 3 parts: the story itself, the theology presented within, and the writing style and editing.
Story – I get what the author is trying to do here. From the very beginning, we see a married couple where the husband is not a Christian and the wife is. But it’s clear that she is not the ideal example of a loving Christian by the way she treats her husband. As the book continues to unfold, each vignette gets longer and longer. Knowing what the second half of the book was going to be about, I made guesses as I went about who would be in Heaven and who wouldn’t. For the most part, I was right.
There were a few things that happened in the book that I thought were a little odd, but overall, the story was decently presented. I’m not going to go back and look, but my recollection is that pretty much everyone in church leadership was an adulterer, so that was a bit strange.
My biggest problem with the story came in the 2nd half. As those who made it to Heaven looked up their loved ones, they were given the options of watching videos of the actual sins that they were condemned for occurring, or in some cases, reading text about those sins. Many videos were watched of husband or wives who committed adultery. It was, frankly, uncomfortable. We’re not talking explicit scenes here, but the amount of leering and physical groping that is described is beyond unnecessary. My rating for this book is mostly based on the “Story” section of this review, and this is a huge reason for my rating.
Theology – In the first half, as I was guessing who was going to be in Heaven and who was not, characters were presented that, in real life, are the type to appear as good Christians to the casual observer, but were just going through the motions. One was even a famous, charismatic traveling speaker who drew huge crowds. It is a sad truth that many people who pass themselves off as Christians are not actually saved.
Another difficult thing in reviewing a book like this is that it could easily force me to set up my beliefs as correct over the author’s. That is not my intention here, but it’s impossible to not allow a difference of beliefs to color my thinking in some way. In the second half of the book, I disagreed with a lot of the theology presented. I’m not going to list it all, because also I don’t want it to appear that I rated the book lower due to not having the same views of God and the Bible. I will at least say, though, because it’s already mentioned above, that I really hope people in Heaven aren’t going to be watching videos of their loved ones sinning, especially not the types of videos I described above.
Writing Style & Editing – When I read a self-published book like this one, it is my intention not to let things that a professional editor would help with affect my view too much. I’m not saying that there is no burden of responsibility here, but it’s harder for self-published authors. However, I’m going to skip mentioning any proofreading or line-editing issues here and focus on one area that made the book harder to read for me: the style.
I came to realize some time during the 2nd vignette that the book was set in Jamaica. Maybe I should have assumed that already, based on the fact that the author lives in Jamaica. However, at first, I simply thought there were a lot of grammar issues in the dialog. Even after I understood the setting, it was difficult for me to read, as a lot of the dialog is what I can only assume is specific to the way people in Jamaica talk. I’m not trying to say that everything has to be written for Americans, but as an American audience, it was difficult to read. And I’m not sure if the fact that almost everyone used “Bro” or “Sis” as a title for almost everyone else is a Jamaican thing or just a church culture thing that the author is used to, but it was also very distracting for me.
In the end, I can tell I was not the correct audience for this book. The author seems to have found the right audience, as the reviews on the common places I check (Goodreads & Amazon) are all favorable. But for me, there are definitely some cultural and theological differences that made this a difficult book for me to read and enjoy.
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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!