The Heaven Shop

The Heaven Shop

3.6 3
by Deborah Ellis

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There is a lion in our village, and it is carrying away our children.

At her father's funeral, Binti's grandmother utters the words that no one in Malawi wants to hear. Binti's father and her mother before him, dies of AIDS. Binti, her sister, and brother are separated and sent to the home of relatives who can barely tolerate their presence. Ostracized by


There is a lion in our village, and it is carrying away our children.

At her father's funeral, Binti's grandmother utters the words that no one in Malawi wants to hear. Binti's father and her mother before him, dies of AIDS. Binti, her sister, and brother are separated and sent to the home of relatives who can barely tolerate their presence. Ostracized by their extended family, the orphans are treated like the lowest servants. With her brother far away and her sister wallowing in her own sorrow, Binti can hardly contain her rage. She, Binti Phirim, was once a child star of a popular radio program. Now she is scraping to survive. Binti always believed she was special, now she is nothing but a common AIDS orphan.

Binti Phiri is not about to give up. Even as she clings to hope that her former life will be restored, she must face a greater challenge. If she and her brother and sister are to reunited, Binti Phiri will have to look outside herself and find a new way to be special.

Compelling and uplifting, The Heaven Shop, is a contemporary novel that puts a very real face on the African AIDS pandemic, which to-date has orphaned more than 11 million African children. Inspired by a young radio performer the author met during her research visit to Malawi, Binti Phiri is a compelling character that readers will never forget.

Awards and Nominations:

  • Ontario Library Association's Golden Oak Award winner 2006
  • Winner of the 2005 Jane Addams Children's Book Award in the category of Honor Books for Older Children
  • Shortlisted for the 2006 Alberta Children's Choice Book Award
  • A Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Awards Honour Book for 2006
  • Foreword Magazine 2004 Book of the Year Award finalist
  • A Children's Africana Book Awards (CABA) 2005 Honor Book for Older Readers
  • A Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice 2005
  • Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award for Young Adult/Middle Reader Books finalist

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Deborah Ellis always tackles difficult issues, so The Heaven Shop, a powerful and passionate novel about AIDS in Africa, should not surprise her readers. But what is exceptional about Ellis's story is how uncompromising she continues to be... The Heaven Shop never gets strident, but it certainly offers readers a clear sense of the helplessness that African children and young adults face in confronting HIV/AIDS. What the novel does best is offer a human face to the child victims. Binti, like Parvana (the heroine of Ellis's Breadwinner trilogy) before her, is a plucky, high-spirited heroine whom young readers will take to their hearts... a groundbreaking novel that should be in classroom libraries."

-- Quill and Quire

"Readers with an interest in faraway places... will cheer at Binti, self-centered and self-important when life is good, learns through adversity and through the model of her grandmother to think and behave more generously."

-- School Library Journal

Publishers Weekly
In her latest novel focused on world issues, Ellis (the Breadwinner trilogy) focuses on the plight of AIDS orphans in Mulawi. In the opening chapters, current events take precedence over character development. The author establishes how 13-year old Binti went from starring on a popular radio show, attending a private girls' school and helping her generous father tend his Heaven coffin shop, to becoming an impoverished AIDS orphan. However, Binti comes to the fore once her father dies (at the funeral, her grandmother reveals the cause as AIDS) and greedy relatives descend upon Binti and her siblings, seize their possessions, and grudgingly offer them homes (separating the sisters from their brother). Ellis lays bare the prejudice and superstitions surrounding AIDS: the abusive uncle who adopts Binti cautions his children to "keep away from them," to avoid contracting the disease, and men believe that sleeping with a virgin will cure them. Hardship has an impact on the family in myriad ways, including her brother's trip to prison and her sister's sensitively portrayed downward spiral into prostitution, but it also brings the siblings full circle to seek out their grandmother, who cares for a band of AIDS orphans, and to employ their coffin-making skills to start another Heaven Shop. The ending may seem a bit tidy to readers who become immersed in this grim portrait of disease and ignorance, but they will likely cheer on this stalwart heroine and may well pay closer attention to headlines about AIDS and Africa. Ages 11-14. (Oct.) FYI: Royalties from book sales will be donated to Unicef. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The Heaven Shop sells coffins that will "take you swiftly to heaven." And coffins are much needed in Malawi, because AIDS is killing so many people. Binti is 13 years old when the story begins. She is successful on a radio show and she and her brother and sister are doing well in a private school. Binti's older sister June has cared for them for several years, since the death of their mother. Now the children's father is very ill and soon he dies of AIDS. The relatives are the first to gather and inform the children both parents died of AIDS, and therefore they too are tainted. The relatives take over all assets left to the children and force them to relocate, where the three work in terrible conditions for their relatives. June, the older sister, takes up prostitution as a way of earning money, and by the end of the story, she too is infected with H.I.V. Meanwhile, Binti leaves the cruel relatives and journeys to find her elderly grandmother who is living in abject poverty, trying to care for a group of little children whose parents are dead or dying from AIDS. Her brother ends up in prison for "stealing" food from his uncle, but fortunately friendly community workers help the three siblings reunite. Binti finally finds herself again after all the grief and hardship: life is still hard, but she finds purpose in caring for the little children and returning to school and being in plays once again. Also, the siblings make coffins and start up another Heaven Shop to earn enough money to feed themselves and the others in their now-extended family. Ellis has written before about children elsewhere in the world who are living extremely difficult lives. (She is the author of the Breadwinnertrilogy set in Afghanistan, about children who are refugees in the war zone there.) She herself has traveled in Malawi and knows firsthand of the devastation caused by AIDS in that culture and the presence of millions of orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. So many teachers, doctors, nurses and other professionals have died that schools are closed and medical care is inadequate. By reading this gripping story, students will understand how the epidemic of AIDS in Africa has changed individuals and whole societies. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2004, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 186p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-When 13-year-old Binti Phiri's coffin-making father dies, a grandmother she hardly knows says what no one in Malawi likes to admit: the man, like his wife, died of AIDS. Now orphaned, Binti and her siblings are sent to relatives far from home. A Cinderella-like existence with an uncle whose family ostracizes them and steals their money proves so intolerable that her older sister runs away. Binti, too, escapes and makes her way to her grandmother's village. There she discovers her Gogo surrounded by children, cousins and pretend cousins, all dealing with the effects of the epidemic. A local AIDS activist eventually finds Binti's brother, in jail, and her sister, working as a prostitute. Reunited, the young people open their own coffin shop. The author's travel in the area informs her work, but the message, though important, threatens to overwhelm the story. Binti is a well-developed character, but the others and the events of their lives seem to have been introduced in service to plot; they don't come alive the way the Afghans do in Ellis's "Breadwinner" trilogy (Groundwood) or the way the AIDS victims and their relatives do in Alan Stratton's Chanda's Secret (Annick, 2004). Readers with an interest in faraway places won't mind, though; they will cheer as Binti, self-centered and self-important when life is good, learns through adversity and through the model of her grandmother to think and behave more generously. Teachers and librarians looking for fiction about sub-Saharan Africa will find this title a useful addition.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This AIDS-in-Africa story, though occasionally poignant, smacks of intention. Thirteen-year-old Binti lives in Malawi with two siblings and her sickening father. When her father dies, uncles and aunts swoop down, claim the house and possessions, and remove Binti and her sister to one town and their brother to another. Binti's new life is miserable, not just because she's forced to relinquish her radio-acting job, but also because her relatives, mean-spirited and afraid of AIDS, scorn and neglect her. When her older sister runs away, Binti leaves too. She moves in with her kindhearted Gogo (grandmother), who's running a tiny, poor shelter for AIDS orphans and children whose parents are sick. Binti slowly adjusts to this new life, and eventually both siblings join her there. AIDS, poverty, and prostitution are the subjects of this just-adequate "purpose piece." Well-meant, but weakened by an overall feeling of educational message. Allan Stratton's Chanda's Secrets (p. 498) is far deeper and better written (though its African country is fictional). (author's note, map, author interview) (Fiction. 10-13)

Product Details

Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.57(d)
Age Range:
13 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Deborah Ellis was born in Northern Ontario but grew up in Paris, Ontario. Like many writers, she was a creative loner as a child, at odds with formal education in her youth, and a voracious reader at all times. As an adult, Deborah has been occupied with many issues of interest to women, such as peace, education and equality in society at home and abroad. She works at a group home for women in Toronto, reading and writing in her spare time. In 2006 Deborah was named to the Order of Ontario.

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The Heaven Shop 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a great experience to read, but as a 12 year old girl it wasn't something i would read again. It was a great book to learn interesting facts about Malawi but, it was not the kind of book i would recommend to a classmate. 
TeenLitReview More than 1 year ago
Review from The Heaven Shop was a book I will never forget. The story of Binti is one that I am sure happens everyday to many, many children. The story was the perfect introduction for 6th to 9th grade children into the horror of what is happening with AIDS in some parts of the world. Ellis wrote a book that touches readers, draws them in, teaches them, and in some sense shows you that no one should be too confident that life will always be as they expect it to be. For Binti, it was AIDS, for someone else it may be a car accident, cancer, or murder. Whatever your hardship, this story tells you to be strong, and keep living.

Rating: 4, includes mild sexual detail

Positive: The Heaven Shop tastefully presents the AIDS crisis on a level that is appropriate for 6th to 9th grade readers. Binti is a very good daughter who shows respect for her father and helps him a lot when he is sick. She is dedicated to her family and perseveres to help her brother and sister when they are split up. Binti¿s life is drastically changed by the death of her father, but she makes choices that in the end, make her a better person then ever.

Spiritual Elements: There are a few references that the coffins Binti and her family makes will take the deceased swiftly to Heaven, but nothing more religious/spiritual.

Violence: Some of the family members are quite mean to Binti and her siblings, I seem to recall they even hit them at one point.

Language: None

Sexual Content: Eventually Binti¿s sister starts ¿being nice¿ to men in exchange for money that they save to escape. The term used is ¿being nice¿ and is clearly prostitution, though no further details are given. Of course, with AIDS being a disease transmitted primarily through sex, it is implied that is how people got AIDS. Again, no detail is given.

Other: None

Recommendation: I would highly recommend this book to girls and boys ages 13+. I would go so far to say that I wish it was required reading in the 8th grade! I can name a couple books my 8th grade son has had to read this year that this one could replace. By reading The Heaven Shop I feel that kids will have better understanding of the scope and tragedy of AIDS, as well as a good example of how to keep living when life doesn¿t turn out as you thought is was going to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Binti's life were no longer better, her parents were died because of AIDS. She and her brother, sister got send off to their different relatives. Their relatives treated them badly just because they think the children had AIDS. What will happen to the children with this horrible things happening on them? A classmate recommended this book to me. When I first looked at the cover of this book, I expected it to be about white people treated black people badly. But when I finished reading this book; I found there were some ideas that were similar to my thinking and some that were very different. I liked this book because I think it was really interesting and you can learn more about how Aids worked. I disliked this book because some parts that are really horrible, I can't believe Binti's very own relatives could treat her and her brother, sister very bad just because the relatives think that the children had AIDS but is not even true. I think this is a really interesting and page turning book, and if you wanted to learn more about Aids, this is a good choice for you to read. This book was a appropriate for Grade 7 and up to read but if you can¡¦t handle a sad story, I suggest you that you should think about it before you want to read it. Well, what are you waiting for? Let's ask your parents and buy 'The Heaven Shop'!!!!