Liz's world was torn apart when her husband Jack was murdered in front of her, but she's dealing with it the best she can, focusing entirely on raising their three young boys. When a Hollywood big shot takes an interest in telling Jacks story through film, Liz knows sharing Jack's life with the world is the best memorial. But that means reliving it all, sharing her life and loss with a man who's recently graced the covers of magazines and tabloids. And when it's clear that their business relationship turned friendship is evolving into something more, Liz isn't sure she's ready to let go of the past and move on.
But... There were a few points at the beginning of the story where it felt like someone was trying to teach me a lesson about people with special needs, and it just didn't seem possible that a Hollywood actor wouldn't be aware that they can work “normal jobs.” With TV and movies being what they are over the last couple of decades, I would have expected anyone with electricity to know of at least a few stories, fictional or not, in which someone with mental or intellectual limitations had functioned in what we think of as normal society. Life Goes On, Radio, and The Other Sister come to mind.
I was also a bit disappointed in the portrayal of state run institutions. I know they're far from perfect, and with funding being continually cut, there are bound to be some terrible scenarios. I'm sure it was even worse back when society preferred to lock people with special needs away and pretend they never existed. But my parents and my grandfather worked at a state institution when I was a kid. They thought the world of the residents there and helped support them and their families in their spare time. My grandfather practically lived there, and whether someone was 14 or 20, they were “his kids.” His life ended there as well, dying in the parking lot several hours later than he should have been leaving because those “kids” were his life. I know just as well that sometimes truly awful people are hired on and that abuses do happen, but I wish that the story hadn't overlooked people at the state who were like my grandfather.
Judging Covers: I'm not sure this one fits the story. It kind of makes sense… woman alone staring off into the horizon/future… but the tone is all wrong. It's dark and dreary, almost like something awful is on its way, and that's not at all what this story is about. I would never have seen this image and expected to find a sweet, second-chance romance. I think the problem is gray/blue coloring. If it were something brighter, something gold maybe, like a sunny sky, it would make sense to me.
The Verdict: The story starts out in Liz's best friend Cindy's point of view, which kind of threw me for a loop at first. But as I read that first chapter, it became apparent that it was a brilliant introduction to the event that changed everything for the Atwater family. Seeing Liz's shock and grief through Cindy's eyes and knowing how helpless Cindy felt in her role as best friend in those moments was a pretty powerful scene. But even though the story begin with a heartbreaking tragedy, it's not all tears and angst. The real meat of the story happens when it picks up several months later. Liz is still pretty grief stricken, but she's doing okay. She's keeping it together for her boys and just taking things day to day when a famous Hollywood actor shows up in her driveway.
Reynolds takes his leave from Hollywood after a breakup that proves to him just how shallow the business and people there are. He heads to the one place he can get some perspective, his parents' house. They encourage him to take a step back from the spotlight and apply his fame and connections to something more meaningful, and they shock the hell out of him with a story that leads him to the legacy of Jack Atwater.
Liz's husband Jack dedicated his life to helping people with special needs find support and lead fulfilling lives, and a key part of that was closing state run institutions and getting funding for private facilities where they would be better cared for. Deciding that Jack's story needs to be told to the masses, Reynolds tracks down Liz and asks for her permission and help writing the screenplay.
It's immediately clear that allowing Reynolds into her life now and sharing with him the way her life was with Jack is a big step for her. She's practically isolated herself from the world since his death, and opening up to a complete stranger both takes a toll and makes a difference. It's really the turning point for her, being able to form a friendship outside of her usual crowd and even admit to herself that she finds someone else attractive. For Reynolds, it's a turning point as well. The fake glitter of Hollywood doesn't exist around Liz and her family, and while initially the whole home-grown thing is a bit foreign to him, he quickly begins to cherish family meals and rowdy kids and life the way most people live it.
Watching their relationship develop was pretty fascinating. Liz is dealing with guilt, afraid moving on will somehow lesson her husband's memory, and I would imagine that's a pretty accurate and common scenario. Reynolds is used to getting what he wants, but he knows this time is different, and he's admirably patient and understanding as Liz slowly takes steps forward. Of course, there's the ex-girlfriend from hell and others who don't understand how fame and glamour now pale in comparison to life with Liz and her boys, and there's also the always-intrusive paparazzi around to make things difficult, but they both deal with it well.
Past Heaven is an emotional ride, briefly touching on shock and then rolling into grief and finally regained hope, and it wasn't long before I realized there was no way I was going to put it down until I'd read every word. Despite the sad beginning, though, it's an ultimately heartwarming story, filled with plenty of love, humor, healing, and passion. And if Cindy doesn't have you cracking up, seek help immediately.