Boy Who Claimed He Went to Heaven Recants, Publisher Pulls Book

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Alex Malarkey in 2009. Photo by John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer/Landov

The best-selling book that documents a 6-year-old’s journey to heaven and back during the two months he spent in a coma is being pulled from shelves after the boy, who is now 17, recanted his story. 

Alex Malarkey, the co-author of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven with his father, Kevin Malarkey, was in a car crash in 2004 that left him paralyzed. The memoir, published in 2010 as part of the popular “heavenly tourism genre,” detailed his accounts of talking to Jesus Christ and meeting with the devil. Since its publication, the book has sold more than one million copies, according to the Washington Post.

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But on Tuesday, Pulpit and Pen published a letter from Alex Malarkey, entitled “An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.” Lifeway is a chain of religious book retailers. 

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Malarkey writes, calling, well, malarkey on himself. “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

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Beth Malarkey, Alex’s mother, has been objecting to the book for a while. In an April, 2014, post on her blog, she wrote, “It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy who Came Back from Heaven to not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned. … I could talk about how much it has hurt my son tremendously and even make financial statements public that would prove that he has not received monies from the book nor have a majority of his needs been funded by it. … When Alex first tried to tell a ‘pastor’ how wrong the book was and how it needed stopped, Alex was told that the book was blessing people. “

The post implies that Malarkey recanted his story long ago, though Tuesday’s was his first public statement. The post concludes,Alex’s name and identity are being used against his wishes…. How can this be going on???” According to the Washington Post, the book contract was only with Kevin Malarkey, not with Alex or his mother.

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Today, the Christian publisher Tyndale House released a statement confirming it will stop selling the book. “We are saddened to learn that Alex Malarkey, co-author of ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,’ is now saying that he made up the story of dying and going to heaven. Given this information, we are taking the book out of print.” Lifeway has announced that it will no longer sell the book in its stores.  

Family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer says it’s not a surprise that Malarkey would make up a story in the wake of his experience. “When something happens that is so traumatic, regardless of our age, we work to make sense of it and put it in a way that will help us process and sort it out,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “Particularly at 6 years old, his family’s beliefs would be very important. If his family is very religious — and clearly they are — they would talk about this kind of trauma in terms of Jesus and heaven. A 6-year-old trying to make sense of a trauma would use the framework that he perceived as being safe.” 

Malarkey’s decision to publicly recant his story, especially at 17, shows quite a bit of bravery, Hokemeyer says. “The trauma that he endured doesn’t seem to have impaired his judgment or intelligence,” he says. “That’s a hard thing for anyone to do.”

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