Book Review: As Bright As Heaven

14 May

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; A Bridge Across the Ocean; Secrets of  Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. Visit Susan at her website: http://susanlmeissner.com on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at www.facebook.com/susan.meissner

 

My Impressions:

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. I have loved all the books that I have read by this very talented author — from her poignant contemporary debut through her richly detailed historical novels. When given the chance to read As Bright As Heaven, I, of course, issued a resounding YES! But I have to say I have mixed feelings about this novel. It is indeed a beautifully written novel set during an unfamiliar (to me) era in US history. But it was a difficult book to read. I said to a friend that it was very true to life, making it messy and filled with sorrow despite the joy. I definitely recommend this one, but this book requires work on the part of the reader, so don’t expect a quick or easy reading experience.

The setting of As Bright As Heaven is Philadelphia in 1918 and then skips ahead 7 years to 1925. The book begins in the early days of the United States’ involvement in WWI and before the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic hits the city. The Bright family has made a big transition from tobacco farm to the big city and a new venture for parents, Pauline and Thomas. The story is written in the first person voice of the Bright women, mom Pauline and daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa, with each chapter alternating perspective. The style of the novel provides an intimate look into each character’s thoughts while spotlighting the family dynamics. As the tragedy and consequences of both the flu and the war unfold, Meissner explores the impact on this family and the community as a whole. The combination of the two large events presents a unique framework to show how lives can be changed quickly and unexpectedly. Meissner certainly did her research — the fear, loss, and desperation of those times are clear. While the book is at times rather dark, the Brights have moments of beauty that keep the soul hoping and living. As one character puts it — “We only see a little bit of our stories at time, and the hard parts remind us too harshly that we’re fragile and flawed. But it isn’t all hard. Your story isn’t all hard parts. Some of it is incredibly beautiful.” That pretty much sums up the book and life in general. The characters are very real — they make bad choices often for the right reasons, and those have unimagined and widespread effects (again very true to life). For those who have read Meissner’s Christian fiction, this book is targeted to the general market and has no overt faith message. However, the author’s worldview informs the novel and breaks through in subtle ways.

As Bright As Heaven was a difficult book for me to read. It is a bit unconventional and it touched on difficult circumstances. I didn’t ugly cry during it, but I did have feelings of sorrow for both the characters and those who lived through those difficult times. Meisnner is a very talented writer and has created a beautifully crafted novel. It is a recommended read for me.

Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(Thanks to Berkley for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

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