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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.
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  • 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 Talla, 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.
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  • 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 in 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.
  • 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).
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The conditions of the prison camp for the captured Americans. They share a small hut with no beds, have minimal meals, are subject to disease and mistreatment, forced to work in a nearby mine and a sick and emaciated prisoner who under performs is executed. The American soldiers also engage in war crimes - they shoot all the Japanese involved, even the one who was sneaking them bread, and another when they burn up a hut that has children in it, albeit unknowingly.
  • Pensieve Flashback: Happens a lot in the Made-for-TV Movie.
  • P.O.W. 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.
  • 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.

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