Alex Malarkey's bestselling memoir about heaven turns out to be fiction

As a child, Alex Malarkey told his parents of a trip to heaven after a near-death experience. His father co-authored a book with him that turned into a bestseller. Now it turns out that Alex's story was untrue.

Tony Dejak/AP/FILE
In this Jan. 9, 2009 file photo, Beth Malarkey, left, covers up her son, Alex, right, with a blanket after surgery as Alex's father, Kevin, watches at University Hospital's Case Western Reserve Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

It is hard to say which a parent might find harder, grappling with a child’s crippling disability after a near-fatal car crash, or learning that his own inspiring story about his near-death ordeal was entirely false?

Alex Malarkey was only 6 years old when his family was in a car crash that left him in a coma for two months, and a quadriplegic. When he awoke, he shared a story about having died and gone to heaven. The story was made into a book that has spent multiple years on bestseller lists. 

Alex, now a teenager, came forward this week in an internet post admitting that the bestseller "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven"  from Tyndale House Publishers, which he co-wrote with his father, was untrue.

It seems to me that a big part of this story is a cautionary tale for parents to not overly invest in things very young children say, since early childhood is a time of being highly suggestible, having imaginary friends when lonely, and in this case, telling a story that could have easily been part of a coping mechanism after a severe trauma.

Alex posted an open letter on the website Pulpit and Pen in which he retracts his original testimony. 

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” the teenager wrote. “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.”

According to reports, Tyndale has said it will pull the book and it related materials from its lineup.

The book was co-written by then 6-year-old Alex and his father, Kevin Malarkey, a Christian therapist with a counseling practice near Columbus, Ohio. From what is known, it seems by many accounts that his father, the coauthor, was the driving force behind all of this, with or without his consent. I don’t imagine that the vast majority of children that age, particularly those waking up after a two-month-long coma, are capable of that level of literary feat.

Kids tell tales all the time. We may find it adorable in the very young, as parents post videos online of their adorable toddlers telling stories about stolen treats. While these tales can be exasperating for parents in the moment, it is perhaps easier to deal with than a lie that has been perpetuated after being made public, as Alex’s story was. 

According to reports, Alex’s mother, Beth Malarkey, now divorced from his father, was not comfortable with her husband’s choices and has spoken out about the book and her son’s association to it.

According to an April 2014 post on Beth Malarkey’s blog, Alex never authored the book or received proceeds and she has spoken out about that online.

The profile statement on her blog reads, “I am NOT involved with, or desire to be connected with, the book titled The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Yes, I am the mom of Alex Malarkey who is NOT an author, nor does he have or has he ever had an agent! Any questions pertaining to any said experiences that my child did or did not have are for him and only him to answer if and when he desires to (or feels he is supposed to).”

As the mom of four boys, who has been told everything from fibs about cutting classes to whoppers about being at a friend's while instead attending a party, I can relate to the mom's internal conflict that comes with a child’s confession of a long-term lie.

Alex’s tale is relatable to all parents whose children have told them an extraordinary story. What parents do with that story, and the resulting narrative that unfolds from those actions, is what can make real life stranger than fiction.

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