Reading Group Guide

The First Phone Call from Heaven

The following list of questions about this book are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this novel. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach this book.

  1. Are you surprised by the various reactions from the people who receive the phone calls from heaven? How do you think you would react if you were to receive such a call?
  2. How do these phone calls from heaven change the small Midwestern town of Coldwater? Do you think it would be different if the same thing happened in a major city?
  3. How do the town’s different religious leaders handle the news of the calls? What would you do if you were a spiritual guide like Pastor Warren, and one of your parish members broke such news to you?
  4. One of the most serious concerns of the religious leaders was the idea that, “if people truly believed they were talking with heaven, how soon before they expected to hear from the Lord?” What are the implications of this question? Do you think this is a legitimate concern?
  5. If you could hear from someone you have lost, would you want to? If so, who would you most want to hear from?
  6. Throughout the novel, Mitch Albom interweaves the story of Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. Why do you think he includes this? How is it connected to the main story and how does it illuminate the novel’s message?
  7. Is Sully a good man? Describe him. What emotions motivate him when we first meet him? Is he the same person at the end of the novel? Why is he skeptical from the very beginning? Why drives him to find the truth? Did he do the right thing trying to find answers? Are the answers he finds those he was truly looking for?
  8. What advice would you give Sully to help him protect his son, yet help him understand death in the cycle of life?
  9. The role of media and technology plays a big part in spreading the news of the phone calls. Is our instant connectedness ultimately a good thing? Can it have a detrimental effect? What about Amy, the journalist who broke the original story? How does she feel about her role? How does her outlook change as the novel progresses? What factors influence her viewpoint?
  10. Towns like Coldwater face major social and economic problems today, thanks to global competition, economic contraction, and a host of other issues. Do these problems make it more likely that people would cling to a miracle like a phone call from heaven? Might the reaction have been different in better times?
  11. What propelled Horace to do the things he did? Were his motives pure? Sully accuses Horace of giving people false hope. Horace asks him, “What is false about hope?” Is there such a thing as false hope? Do you sympathize with Horace’s actions?
  12. One of the effects of the phone calls is to drive people back to organized religion and their individual houses of worship. Why? What role does faith and God play in the community both before the phone calls and after? What about individual characters’ lives? Choose a few and use examples from the book to support your discussion.
  13. How does belief enhance our lives, and how can it be destructive? Pastor Warren advices Elias, “If you believe it, you don’t need proof.” Do you agree with this? Should proof matter?
  14. What do you think will happen to the characters and this town? What has the impact of the event had on all their lives? Was the event ultimately positive or negative? Did you have a favorite character? If so, what drew you to this person?
  15. What did you take away from reading The First Phone Call from Heaven?