About the book (from the publisher):
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner (Berkley Books, 2018)
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.
This one is up there as one of my very favorite Susan Meissner books now!
As her usual, this historical fiction is well-researched and well-written, but a few other things raise its quality as well. From the very first chapter, this book is heart-wrenching and remains so throughout. Several of Susan’s other books are dual POV and set into two timelines. This book, instead, is from four points of view – Pauline (the mother) and three sisters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa. We spend time in 1918 and 1919 at the start of the Spanish flu epidemic (such an interesting time period!), then move to 1925 and 1926. I particularly enjoyed this setup. Most of it is written in present tense, though there are past tense flashbacks within scenes in nearly every chapter. In other books, this sometimes bothers me and breaks up the flow of reading, but I only paused once or twice at these points in this book, so it barely interrupts the reading experience and includes such vivid character reflection and emotion that it supplements the story well.
The action starts right from the beginning and never lets up, some of it of a quieter intensity than the rest, but intense nonetheless. All of the characters are very introspective, perhaps abnormally so, but you’re so pulled in to the reading that it’s okay. Even with that commonality, all of the character voices are distinct. I cared about each character (particularly Maggie and Evelyn), and thought about the characters even when not reading. The side character’s internal journeys (particularly Jamie and Conrad) are equally intriguing and add depth and additional layers to the story.
This book, with its strong introspection and deep-feeling themes, causes the reader to reflect, as well, particularly on the themes of life, death, moving past hurt, hope for the future, effects of war and loss, recognizing that each of us has experienced pain, and seeing each person as a life whose story matters. While the story is white-focused, immigrant side characters are included with value for their stories too.
I do want to offer a small trigger warning that if you have lost someone very recently, you may want to wait to read this book until after a bit of time passes. We lost an extended family member unexpectedly last year, and I likely couldn’t have dealt with reading these heavy themes within the few weeks right after that, though I am very glad to have read it now. That said, you may find comfort in diving into these themes while it is fresh, and if so, this book looks at loss from several perspectives.
This book releases on February 6, 2018! Preorder at Amazon or your favorite book retailer now.
Disclosure: I received a free ARC copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own, and this is my honest review.
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