So, it turns out the Boy Who Came Back from Heaven book is fiction. The young lad has admitted to making it up for “some attention”. I would have thought that the horrific injuries he sustained in the car crash, that left him in need of full-time care, would have provided enough attention. I guess he meant the sort of attention that would make him feel “‘special”.

He’s not the first person to make something up and then watch it spiral out of control. He’s also not the first person to write a book and get it published as “truth” when it wasn’t. There was that guy who was sponsored by Oprah: James Frey. He wrote a “memoir”- A Million Little Pieces – that proved to be full of falsehoods.  There was quite a bit of hoohah about it at the time, with lots of discussion re the publisher’s responsibility to make sure their non-fiction really is non-fiction.

There was a young woman here in Oz in the 90s. (I think. It might have been the 80s. You get to my age and the decades start sliding into each other.) Helen Demidenko won a literary prize for her first work – the history of her family – The Hand that Signed the Paper. It was supposedly about her migrant Ukrainian family who had sided with Hitler and then after the war emigrated to Australia. Turned out her name is really Helen Darville and she’d made the whole thing up. She’s now employed by a Liberal senator. (Don’t say it, Wendy, don’t say it…)

Back to the lad and his trips to Heaven. I guess that at the moment there will be a large number of people who are feeling slightly angry, a little foolish and very disappointed, because they believed the tale. They wanted it to be true. I feel sorry for them because disillusionment is a bitter pill to swallow. However, the person I most feel sorry for is the boy.

He told an imaginative story to his parents, perhaps with the hope that not only would it make him feel special, but that it might give a positive spin to his condition. “Don’t feel bad, Mom and Dad. Yes I’m a quadriplegic now, but it’s all for a higher purpose. I got to visit heaven and then come back and tell you all about it.” So his dad thought, “This is great! We should share it with the world!” His mum wasn’t so convinced but, as everyone else seemed to think it kosher, she thought she’d run with it. As they claim that the lad didn’t benefit financially from the deal (perhaps they donated the proceeds to charity) I can only assume they chose to believe the story because they wanted to believe the story.

The whole thing is very sad. It would be easy for non-believers to make some serious fun of the family, and the people who bought the books, and the publishers etc etc. I hope they don’t. I hope there is a spark of compassion for this family caught up in a tragedy, hoping to find a huge silver lining in it all. For the believers who have been duped: take it as a salutary warning that we all need to be far more discerning. As it is, there’s now more ammunition for those who think Christians leave their brains in the car-park before entering the church.

The parents of the boy have now split up, so there’s another tragedy for the kid to deal with in his short, sad life. I hope someone is being supportive to him. I hope someone lets him know that there will be better days ahead. Maybe, like James Frey, he can eventually go on to write more fiction but be up front about it. After all, he seems to have a talent for it.

Be nice to each other out there. We all have secrets. We all make mistakes. We’re all prone to embroidering our dull lives to make them seem more interesting and more meaningful.