Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall


By Wendy Mass

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When 16-year-old Tessa suffers a shocking accident in gym class, she finds herself in heaven (or what she thinks is heaven), which happens to bear a striking resemblance to her hometown mall. In the tradition of It’s a Wonderful Life and The Christmas Carol, Tessa starts reliving her life up until that moment. She sees some things she’d rather forget, learns some things about herself she’d rather not know, and ultimately must find the answer to one burning question–if only she knew what the question was.

Written in sharp, witty verse, Wendy Mass crafts an extraordinary tale of a spunky heroine who hasn’t always made the right choices, but needs to discover what makes life worth living.


Copyright © 2007 by Wendy Mass

Reader's Guide Copyright © 2008 by Little, Brown and Company

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: November 2008

First published in hardcover in 2007 by Little, Brown and Company

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Summary: When high school junior Tessa Reynolds falls into a coma after getting hit in the head during gym class, she experiences heaven as the mall where her parents work, and she revisits key events from her life, causing her to reevaluate herself and how she wants to live.

ISBN: 978-0-316-04089-1

Also by Wendy Mass:

A Mango-Shaped Space Leap Day

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Every Soul a Star



For fifty cents and a Gobstopper

I lifted my shirt for the neighborhood boys.

My older 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.

For some reason,

this is the memory in my head

as the fluorescent orange dodgeball

hurtles toward me at something like

the speed of light, but in slow motion

at the same time.

In my high school there are jocks,

preps, cheerleaders, teachers' pets,

hicks, stoners, slackers, dorks, cool kids,

band/choir/chorus/drama geeks,

regular geeks, nerds, populars, burnouts,

freaks, punks, intellectuals, scene kids,

emo kids, goths, loners, losers, wankstas,

sluts, haters, skaters, speds, straight-edgers,

floaters, and drifters. And yet I'm the one

someone has chosen as a dodgeball target.

I stare at the orange ball, unable to move,

and I wonder, which came first,

the color orange, or the fruit?

And why is an orange the only fruit

that has to share its name with its color?

A banana isn't called yellow.

It's not fair.

If I were an orange, I would complain.

If I were an orange, I wouldn't be

standing here in dorky gym shorts,

which are too tight in the thighs/butt

(and not in a good way.)

I wouldn't have to take gym class at all,

where everyone can see that I missed

shaving that stripe of hair

on the back of my legs.

I don't know who fired this ball,

but they should get a major league contract

instead of applying to college.


Speaking of college,

why are my parents making me

write my college application essay

when there's still two weeks of junior year left?

And why does the essay question have to be so hard?

Who are you?

They have the nerve to ask me this,

and then tell me I can attach extra paper,

if I need it.

Who am I?

I have no idea.

I mean, I don't even have the slightest,

vaguest clue. Well, I know the basics.

My name, shoe size, bra size,

favorite color, and what I ate for breakfast,

but I don't think that's what they mean.

I bet Amanda Jentis knows who she is –

the most popular girl in school

with a thousand friends on her MySpace.

Once, she smiled at me in the hall

and said, "Cute shirt." I think she meant it too,

because her friend Allie didn't laugh

and ask, "Were you serious?"

like she did when Amanda told some freshman

that she liked his haircut.

And to top it all off,

an old Ashlee Simpson song

keeps going through my head

as if I haven't sworn off boys.

Hey, how long till you're leaving me alone,

Don't you got somewhere to go?

I didn't steal your boyfriend.

These gym shorts are giving me a wedgie.

Should I fix them? I probably don't have time,

on account of the ball.

Out of the corner of my eye

I see Andy Beckerman –

who I once had a sort of date with –

staring at my butt.

Can he see the wedgie?

Or is he just thinking I have a big butt?

The time to duck, or move out of the way,

is rapidly approaching. Any normal person

would duck. It's, like, a natural human reaction. Ball-whizzing-toward-head equals DUCK.

Why aren't I ducking?


I could say, in my defense,

the dodgeball is made of rubber.

How much damage

could a rubber ball do?

I am sixteen.

My head is hard.

And who thinks aiming balls

at someone's head is a healthy pursuit

for teenagers hyped up on caffeine?

Apparently dodgeball is banned

in most schools now,

but our principal does not believe

in banning. Our school library

takes pride in its collection of books

that have been banned


I watch the ball get closer

and closer as my teammates

move farther

and farther away from me.

I watch, mesmerized, as it smacks

the blond girl – not a natural blond,

but you wouldn't know it

unless you looked really hard at her roots –

squarely on the left side of her head.

I watch her neck bend back

at a really weird angle.

I watch as she falls,

not crumpling gracefully

like in the movies,

but slamming hard

onto the shiny gym floor.

I wonder if some people are thinking

this is the most exciting thing to happen

in gym since Claire Franklin and Billy Sams

were caught doing it behind the bleachers.


I watch as the others run toward her,

some screaming and others smiling,

and I don't blame the ones

who are smiling. I know that sometimes

when presented with a real-life shock

you don't know how to handle it,

so you smile like when you're watching

a movie and it's supposed to be entertaining,

but you're like, this is just violent,

why is this supposed to be entertaining?

but then you smile anyway

because the actor or actress is really cute

and says something sarcastic and you try

not to look at the body while you wait

for the next scene.

I watch the gym teacher yell "Stand back"

and for someone to get the school nurse.

The janitor arrives

I guess to wipe up the blood.

I know the girl on the floor, the one

with her neck bent all weird,

I know the girl is me.

But I'm too busy soaring

toward Heaven to care.

And the thing that is most surprising,

the thing you might not know,

is that in the right light,

Heaven looks a lot like the mall.

Information Booth


When I land – well, not so much land,

exactly, but stop soaring – I find myself

standing in front of the Information Booth.

It is not just any information booth,

at any mall, in any town.

I am at MY OWN MALL,

in my own town.

There may be thirty thousand

malls in America,

but I would recognize mine anywhere.

The sprawling brick and glass

and linoleum structure

filled with everything

anyone would ever need.

But how did I get here?

Did I drive? Is Matt home

from college and he drove me?

Did my parents bring me

to work with them?

The last thing I remember

I was sprawled, spread-eagle

on the gym floor,

which is not a very ladylike position,

and my mother would have been horrified

if she knew, because appearances

are very, very important

to her.

Okay. I might not be

the smartest pair of jeans on the rack,

but I'm pretty sure I know

what's going on.

I just never believed

in an afterlife before.

And to be honest, I always thought

mine would come in shades of red

and heat. I never thought I would be

lucky enough to wind up here,

where I feel more at home

than my real home.

Both of my parents work here,

and over the years I've spent

more time here than anywhere

except for school.

I know the mall like the back of my hand,

although when you think about it,

that expression is really dumb,

because if someone showed me

the back of my hand, and then the back

of someone else's hand,

could I truly tell the difference?

And why does the blood in my veins

look blue, when the gym floor proves

it is red?

I love the mall. I love the smooth, shiny floors,

the marble and chrome that make you feel

like an honored guest. I love the skylights

that fill the open spaces with shafts of light,

the escalators that lead you up to the bounty

of riches on the top floor, Gucci and Fendi,

Godiva and Betsey Johnson, Tiffany and Lucky –

all the places out of my reach. I love the flowering

plants and gurgling fountains that make you think

it's summer in the middle of March.

I know the tricks stores use to keep customers

inside, like the absence of windows so you won't know

how late it is, the music they play to keep you

energized, the lighting in the dressing rooms

that makes you look tanner, the way the mirrors

are slightly tilted forward to make you look thinner.

I know where the security cameras are hidden –

behind the trees, under the posters,

inside the light fixtures.

I know they bunch together all the teenage stores

like Aeropostale, PacSun, A&F, American Eagle,

Hollister, Rampage, Hot Topic, Spencer's, and Wet Seal

so the rest of the mall doesn't have to deal with us,

and the security guys won't have to follow us

as far. They don't follow me at all

because I'm a mall brat, which is like an army brat,

except your parents work here instead of in the army,

and it's an unspoken agreement

that we would never steal from ourselves

except sometimes we do.

I have spent so much

of my life in this mall,

I suppose it is only fitting that I spend

eternity here as well.


But where is the pearly gate?

Where are the angels and harps?

(Not that I really like harps. I mean, honestly, who does? But still,

what is Heaven without harps?)

At least being dead

I won't ever have to write

that stupid college essay.

I guess now I'll never find out

who I am. Or was. Or would have been.

Although let's face it, my future

wasn't so bright that I'd have to wear shades.

I bet a lot of kids

would be royally ticked off

if they died during dodgeball.

They would feel betrayed

and maybe angry or sad.

But I have perfected the art

of not feeling

anything at all.

In a way, this whole dying thing

takes a lot of the pressure off.

It's just too hard trying not to cross

all those fine lines that everyone is aware of,

even though they don't talk about them:

Be honest, but don't hurt anyone's feelings

be independent, but not a loner

be smart, but not a nerd

be sexy, but not a slut

be skinny, but don't barf up your burger

be funny, but not to hide some other deficiency.

How the heck is a girl

supposed to "be" anything?

I look around at the shops on either side

of the Information Booth.

I bet I could shop for free!

I could ask Old Bev because she's been here

since the mall opened in the eighties,

and she's always in her little chair

giving someone directions to Pottery Barn

or the AMC theaters or Burger King, and she would know

if the dead people can shop for free.

Some people say she looks

like she was put together with spare parts,

and maybe she does, but she's always been

really sweet to me.

But Bev is not manning the booth.

In fact, I see no one else in the entire mall.

Which is weird, since gym class is smack

in the middle of the day.

I look up through the big skylight. No sky,

no clouds, no stars. Only blackness.

I ring the bell on the counter anyway.

The echo bounces off empty walls

and cavernous spaces. Then I notice

a note taped to the counter:

Tessa Reynolds (that's me!),

Welcome to The Mall of Heaven.

Hang on for the ride of your life.

–The Mall Manager

It slowly dawns on me

(nothing dawns on me quickly,

as proven by my mediocre SAT scores)

that someone's gone to a lot of effort

to make me comfortable.

I wonder if to my father, Heaven

looks a lot like a bowling alley.

Hot Dog-on-a-Stick


I plop down next to the Info Booth,

on the white plastic bench

made possible by a generous donation from the Elks Club.

I wait. I wait and wait

some more. Surely someone will tell me what to do.

Time passes.

My neck still aches

from the supersonic dodgeball.

Aren't all your relatives

supposed to greet you

when you get to Heaven?

My two grandfathers should be here.

And Muffin, our family cat

who Dad said was sent to a farm

so he would have a better quality of life,

but I found out later he was hit

by a kid on a skateboard, which can happen, even if

people don't think it can.

If this is the ride of my life,

I want a refund.

No one is coming.

Maybe everyone is somewhere else.

Maybe they are eating in the food court.

Maybe I could get a hot dog-on-a-stick.

My mother never lets me get those

because she once watched a documentary

on how hot dogs are made, and now

will only buy fake dogs, like Soy Pups.

But even if she hadn't seen

that show, she still wouldn't let me eat

one, because of all the calories.

I think my mother truly believes

that all I need is a good makeover

and all my "issues" will go away,

like in those movies where the girl

is really pretty but she wears glasses

and her hair in a ponytail, so you're not

supposed to notice that she's really pretty,

and all she needs to do is let down her hair,

get contacts, and put on some lip gloss

and everyone wants to take her

to the prom, but she decides all she wants

is the nerdy guy who was always nice to her,

so she blows off the captain of the football team

and walks away, her head held high,

to the tune of some pop song.

But you can't take off

twenty extra pounds

by letting down your hair.


I better check that my mother

is really not here

because she has spies

all over the food court,

and I have spent enough time

in my life hearing how I'm ruining

my body by eating junk food.

I don't have to hear it in death.

I head down the hall to Lord & Taylor.

The gate is pulled down, lights off.

If she was at her post

behind the makeup counter,

I'd be able to see her

from here. I suddenly feel a chill

and back up a few feet. The reality

of my situation is sneaking up on me.

I push it away.

What was I thinking of before?

Oh, yeah, the hot dog-on-a-stick.

The escalator is turned off so I climb up it,

which feels weird, like trying to climb up a frozen waterfall.

On the counter of the hot dog stand,

on a yellow paper plate, is one

cornbread-covered hot dog-on-a-stick.

Next to it is a Post-it note with my name on it.

I am beginning to feel VERY special!

I gobble the dog, which is just as delicious

as I'd always suspected, only slightly surprised

that I am hungry in Heaven.

As I toss the stick in the plastic garbage bin,

I glance at a wall made of mirrors and gasp.

There is dried, crusty blood all over the right side

of my head and neck and cheek. And my hair

is all matted down, after I spent a particularly long time

straightening it this morning and even burned

my forehead.

That gym floor really made an impact!

I am grossed out by myself.

Totally grossed out.

This is not the first time

I have been horrified at my reflection,

but usually it is because of a pimple on my chin,

or my potbelly or any of the other things

Mom not-so-subtly points out at any opportunity.

Plus, I am still wearing my yellow and green

gym uniform. I do not ever wear yellow

and green in public. In fact, ever since the junior prom

last month, I've worn only black.


On Sale
Nov 1, 2008
Page Count
256 pages

Wendy Mass

About the Author

Wendy Mass is the New York Times bestselling author of The Candymakers, Pi in the Sky, Every Soul a Star, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and A Mango-Shaped Space.

Learn more about this author