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Book Review

Between Heaven and Earth by Eric Walters has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is part of the “Seven” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Seventeen-year-old DJ hasn’t had much experience with failure. He’s the older brother to his twin, Steve, and the oldest of seven male cousins. The athletic, responsible leader was named after his grandfather, David McLean, who recently passed away.

Grandpa’s will surprised the whole family. He left each grandson a task to complete, as well as the financial resources to do so. Grandpa asked many of the boys to travel to foreign countries on their own. DJ’s task was particularly poignant since he and Grandpa had been close: Grandpa asked DJ to scatter his ashes on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

While DJ has no climbing experience, he’s not worried. He’s young and strong, and he assumes he’ll have no trouble making the journey to the mountaintop. When he arrives in Africa, customs officials detain him. One of Grandpa’s old friends, a judge, helps get him released. A street child robs him of his packed clothing and climbing gear before he reaches his hotel.

DJ finds the office of his tour company. The judge’s son, Elijah, runs the place, but Elijah’s 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, is manning the office. When DJ tells her about the robbery, she makes a secret bargain with him. She will help him get the gear he needs, if he will insist she be one of the porters on the climb. DJ agrees without realizing what he’s saying.

Sarah sneaks DJ into a black market where he buys back his stolen goods. Even before the trip begins, Elijah and other porters start criticizing DJ for making Sarah join the party. The native men believe women can’t be porters. There has never been a female porter. Sarah should be at home doing traditional female duties.

Sarah, Elijah and the other porters carry the gear for DJ and his fellow climbers. The group includes several fit Finnish men and a woman in her late 60s named Doris. DJ starts out measuring himself against the Finnish men and the young climbers in other groups. He isn’t far into the trip before he realizes just how difficult this trek will be.

He spends much of his time climbing with Doris, partly to be kind and partly because she’s the one with whom he can keep pace. Several natives have urged him to polepole, meaning take it slow. This is a tough lesson for the young man who wants to complete his task quickly, efficiently and impressively.

DJ describes the physical changes he experiences the higher he climbs. The trip is difficult and cold, and the altitude causes havoc on his head and stomach. Meanwhile, the Finnish men are always dashing ahead, much to Elijah’s chagrin. Early on the morning the group is supposed to reach the summit, two of the Finnish men become violently ill with mountain sickness. Elijah and all the porters but Sarah must take them down the mountain on stretchers. Elijah will return for DJ, Doris and Sarah, but they will have to abort their plans to climb to the top for lack of supplies. Elijah orders the three to wait for him to return.

DJ is somewhat relieved that he won’t have to finish the journey. Sarah still thinks they should go on to the top alone, despite her father’s orders. DJ texts Steve and tells him they’re quitting. Steve, on his own mission in Spain, urges DJ to keep going to honor Grandpa’s memory. Steve’s words give DJ the push he needs.

He, Doris and Sarah decide to summit and get back to their current spot in time to meet Elijah. The rest of the journey is difficult, but they travel slowly, help each other and share the load of the packs. As a team, they scatter Grandpa’s ashes. Doris says a few words in memorial, stating Grandpa must have been a good man to have such a thoughtful grandson. She asks Grandpa to say hello to her dead husband, who had always hoped to climb Kilimanjaro.

DJ and his team meet Elijah and complete the journey down the mountain. Elijah is proud of their accomplishment. Doris and DJ plan a reunion for the following year. She says she has a granddaughter she wants him to meet. In Grandpa’s final letter, to be read after the climb, he praises DJ for his perseverance.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Grandpa says all men started out with one family through Adam and Eve, whether or not there was evolution. Some of the natives tell DJ the mountain has a spirit, and he shouldn’t make it angry. They say standing at the summit of Kilimanjaro is like standing between heaven and earth.

Authority Roles

DJ’s mother nervously allows DJ and his twin to make the overseas trips Grandpa assigned them. Elijah’s father (also named Elijah) is a judge and an old friend of Grandpa’s. He helps DJ get through customs with Grandpa’s ashes. Elijah the guide is initially unhappy that his young daughter is attempting the climb. When she succeeds, he is proud. Doris, a wise, older woman, has experienced difficulty in life and understands the importance of moving at a slow, steady pace. DJ learns a lot from her example.


The words crap and butt appear a time or two.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Illegal activity: DJ smuggles Grandpa’s remains into the country in his walking stick. Thieves steal from tourists and sell their items on the black market.

Alcohol: The Finnish men arrive hung over on the first day of the climb. DJ is surprised when Elijah mentions Grandpa’s drinking, because he never knew his grandfather to drink. Elijah says Grandfather used to drink a lot, but that after his soul was healed, he no longer needed to drink.

Bodily functions: DJ is keenly aware of the changes in his bodily functions due to the increase in altitude. In his narrative, he often mentions his stomach problems and bathroom habits. He also describes the severe projectile vomiting of two of the climbers when they fail to pace themselves and get mountain sickness.

Historical mistreatment: DJ’s guides touch on the historical mistreatment of native Africans by white people. The natives joke that Africa is like Mt. Kilimanjaro, white on top and black underneath.

Sexism: Male porters don’t believe women are capable of doing their job because it involves physical labor. They criticize Sarah and want to see her fail. Sarah says women are much smarter than men.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 15


Eric Walters






Record Label



Orca Book Publishers


On Video

Year Published





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