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Literature / The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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A novel by Mitch Albom, published in 2003.

In an amusement park called Ruby Pier, an old man named Eddie works as the head of maintenance. One day a ride malfunctions and he gives his life to rescue a trapped little girl. The rest of the novel follows his journey through Heaven, meeting people who've touched his life, or whose lives he's touched. A Made-for-TV Movie was made in 2004, starring Jon Voight.

A sequel novel, the next person you meet in heaven, was published in 2019.


  • Abusive Parents: Eddie's father was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Eddie's dad drinks quite heavily, which is assumed to be part of the reason he caught pneumonia and passed away.
  • All for Nothing:
    • Eddie's father literally catches his death saving the life of his friend Mickey, whose guilt over the incident leads him to drink himself to death a short while later and die alone.
    • Averted for Eddie. Eddie thinks his life meant nothing and that he never accomplished anything but Tala helps him realize his job as the head of maintenance at Ruby Pier kept people safe and happy and that was his purpose in life.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Due to his pier-side fairground upbringing, Eddie becomes proficient at juggling three, four and even five items. He later uses this skill to wow the bored Japanese prison camp guards by juggling rocks and get them into the hut, then pelts them with the rocks to begin a break out.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: The Captain shot Eddie so that he wouldn't kill himself by trying to go back into the burning building.
  • Dead to Begin With: The novel starts off with Eddie dying.
  • Death of a Child: At the beginning of the story, Eddie attempts to save a little girl called Amy (or Annie) at the pier during an accident, but dies in the process unknowing if he was successful as the last thing he comprehended was the grip of child hands. He finds out at the very end of the story that the hands belonged to Tala, a girl he unknowingly burned to death in the Philippines during World War 2, and that she was pulling him into the afterlife. Thus, although one infant died, another lived, and he died saving the one that lived, making it a weird inversion.
  • De-aged in Death: Marguerite voluntarily appears to Eddie as she did on their wedding day, because she thought that was how he'd most like to see her. He assures her that isn't the case, and she shifts into her real age as they share a last dance.
  • Died on Their Birthday: Eddie dies on his eighty-third birthday saving a young girl from a malfunctioning amusement ride.
  • A Father to His Men: The Captain deconstructs this. On the surface, he was the embodiment of this trope—dedicated to the soldiers under his care and absolutely refusing to leave anyone behind, even to the point of his own death. But when Eddie meets him again in Heaven, he realizes that the Captain was only a few years older than the members of his regimen, and that he has been dead for twice as long as he lived. It thus becomes tragic: someone that young shouldn't need to bear so much responsibility, but the horrors of war forced the Captain into it.
  • Friend to All Children: Children are drawn to Eddie, who is gruffly affectionate with them in return.
  • Heaven: Given the subject of the novel, this is the setting for the majority of the time. Apparently, you meet five people there, and they tell you about your life. You are then tasked to tell others about their lives. Once you've covered all those you've significantly influenced in life you get to truly ascend to Heaven. In the meantime, you get your own neat little Heaven scape though.
  • Hidden Depths: Ruby reveals to Eddie that his father got his pneumonia not from drunken escapades (as was assumed), but from saving a friend from drowning.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Eddie and Marguerite want a child, but they're never able to conceive or have the money to adopt one.
  • Lost Lenore: Eddie never completely gets over Marguerite's premature death.
  • Love at First Sight: Eddie had this with Marguerite, and knew she was the girl he'd marry after their first dance.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: During World War II, Eddie uses a captured flamethrower to raze the small prison camp he and his comrades just broke out of and in the process attempts to enter a burning hut under the impression that someone is inside it before being crippled by his captain to save his life. It turns out that there was a little girl in the burning hut. He meets her in Heaven.
  • No Name Given: Several characters in the book aren't given names, including the Captain and Eddie's parents. It reflects the novel's expressionism—since Eddie only knew those people by their titles, they don't have anything besides them to use as identifiers.
  • Nostalgia Heaven: Heaven is a mixture of this and Mundane Afterlife: it's whatever place the person had the fondest memories in (or in some cases, the only memories).
  • Pensieve Flashback: Happens a lot in the Made-for-TV Movie.
  • Personalized Afterlife: This book is this trope—not only does each person get to meet five people who affected their lives in some way, but each meeting takes place in a completely individualized Heaven, each personally selected by the soul who inhabits it.
  • POW Camp: Eddie is in one in the Philippines.
  • The Reveal:
    • Eddie did save the girl at the park; the hands he felt in his were Tala's, bringing him to Heaven. Also, he really did see a shadow run into the hut, and it was Tala.
    • The man whose key inadvertently ended up causing Eddie's death is Ruby's great-grandson.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Eddie, after he returns from fighting in World War II.
  • This Is My Story: The people Eddie meets usually give him stories of their lives and how they were relevant to his. In turn, they are: a sideshow freak a young Eddie accidentally gave a fatal heart attack, the Ruby that Ruby Pier was named after, Eddie's commanding officer in WWII, Eddie's wife Marguerite, and the little girl he accidentally killed in WWII.
  • Unfulfilled Purpose Misery: Part of the reason Eddie was so sad and alone at the end of his life was that he felt he had no purpose and his life was meaningless. The five people he meets help him realize his life really was special and that his job as head of maintenance was meaningful because it kept people safe and happy and that's nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The man mentioned in the beginning of the story who lost his keys while on one of the rides ends up causing Eddie's death because the key has been for months fraying the wire of the ride that ends up sending a cart down.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Mickey Shea gets drunk and attempts to rape Eddie's mother, Eddie's father flies into an understandable rage and chases him out into a storm, fully intending to kill him. But when Mickey tumbles into the ocean and nearly drowns, Eddie's father chooses instead to save him, even though he could have easily walked away and claimed it was an accident.