Award-winning author Eric Schlich’s Eli Harpo’s Adventure to the Afterlife isan accessible and big-hearted novel that explores belief and forgiveness as a boy grapples with his faith and sexuality on a rollicking family road trip to Bible World.
When Eli Harpo was four, he underwent emergency open-heart surgery, flatlined on the operating table, and for a brief time, went to heaven and met Jesus. Or at least that’s what his father, a loving but devout Baptist minister, has raised him to believe.
Nine years later, Eli isn’t so sure. His rounds with his father to evangelize at hospices and sell his father’s self-published book, Heaven or Bust!, feel inauthentic and strange, especially now that he’s started having sex dreams about Jesus. Between that and his mother’s terminal breast cancer diagnosis, Eli feels further from heaven than ever. But when the famous televangelist Charlie Gideon shows up at the Harpos’ doorstep with a proposal to create a new attraction based on Eli’s trip to the afterlife at his Bible-themed park, Eli isn’t able to say no.
As the Harpos head off on a rollicking road trip from Kentucky to Bible World in Orlando, Eli is left to grapple with not just his faith and his sexuality, but also his own parents’ messy humanity and what happens when a family held together by mythmaking starts coming apart at the seams.
Hilarious and moving, Eli Harpo’s Adventure to the Afterlife is a kind-hearted story about self-discovery and the search for truth, wherever it takes you.
“Schlich’s acerbic yet poignant debut novel tackles queerness and monetized religious fervor . . . Sharp satire blends with powerful emotion and a considerate if skeptical approach to religious faith. This delectable send-up is full of heart.”
CJ Hauser, author of Family of Origin
"Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife is a hilarious sendup of the spaces where capitalism meets Christianity. But more than that, Eli Harpo is a character to root for as he tries to figure out which parts of his childhood were real, and which are a story that's been told for so long, and so famously, that no one seems to know where the family faith ends and the truth of Eli begins. Schlich is hilarious, compassionate, and cinematic on the page. His readers will gleefully follow Eli Harpo to the afterlife, or anywhere his search for the truth of himself takes him."
"Moving skillfully between farce and pathos, this tale of entangled allegiances keeps raising its stakes in surprisingly affecting ways. What initially appears to be a deliciously comic takedown of a clueless family of religious nitwits (or are they actually canny grifters?) quickly turns into something messier, more complicated—an empathetic and tender look at an all-too-believably human cast of characters in deep trouble and coming apart at the seams . . . and that's before things get really bad, as young Eli, the Harpo family's golden ticket, begins to realize that essential parts of himself don't conform to the script he's supposed to follow. Without ever forfeiting its deft satire, Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife plumbs unexpectedly moving emotional depths. The result is a big-hearted, wistfully funny, and bracingly wise account of the always painful journey toward self-discovery."Paul Russell, author of The Salt Point and The Coming Storm
"Eric Schlich is one of the most imaginative writers I've ever read. In Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife, Schlich introduces us to a boy-turned-adult looking back on a near-death experience that may or may not have shown him heaven. This novel takes readers on a family road trip to Bible World, a religious theme park brought to kaleidoscopic life on the page, and on Eli's lifelong quest to unveil the truth of his own life. Narrated with humor, heart and pathos, this is a boisterous and beautiful book."Anne Valente, author of The Desert Sky Before Us
"This is a true gem of a novel. Schlich delivers on the brilliant premise—a parallel-universe version of the life of the boy behind Heaven Is for Real—with divine comedy and devastating heartbreak. This beautiful meditation on childhood and its long afterlife is nothing short of miraculous."Daniel Hornsby, author of Via Negativa
"Crackling with humanity, wit, bravery, and heart, Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife is a bold debut that touches the center of what it means to discover who you really are, even if it means challenging what you've always been told was the truth. This book is for anyone who survived childhood and lived to tell the tale—immersive and rich, layered and complex, a thrilling exploration of sexuality, faith, and love."
—Chelsea Bieker, author of Godshot and Heartbroke
“Hilarious and big-hearted, Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife is both a delicious romp through a fictional theme park and a nuanced exploration of why we cling to our own lore, and what it takes to let it go. I actually did both laugh and cry. Eric Schlich’s satire of evangelism is pitch-perfect, coaxing out absurdities while maintaining the integrity of his well-drawn, complex characters. An ideal selection for book clubs!”
—Shelby Van Pelt, author of Remarkably Bright Creatures
"Eric Schlich brilliantly examines how we reconcile the past as we struggle to imagine the future, and he does it with humor and tenderness and, above all, grace. In the process, he resists any possibility of caricature or falsehood, instead leading us to something profound."
—Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here
"Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife is a bighearted, highly entertaining odyssey in the tradition of Little Miss Sunshine, at turns madcap and touching. Schlich writes about big subjects—sexuality, family, faith—with great warmth, humor, and pathos."
—Jonathan Evison, author of Again and Again
"Schlich's novel was such a thrill to read, not only because the writing is by turns emotionally powerful and funny, but also because I so rarely encounter an authentic rendering of Evangelical thought and its complications. This book feels as though it was written directly to the queer kid I was growing up in Arkansas with a Baptist pastor for a father. This novel is a gift."
—Garrard Conley, author of Boy Erased
"Eli Harpo’s Adventure to the Afterlife is an exuberant, rich, lively, and thoroughly entertaining novel, and I adored it. Eric Schlich is a wonderful writer and you’ll admire his prose, but you’ll love the novel most for its big honkin’ heart."
—Annie Hartnett, author of Unlikely Animals and Rabbit Cake