As Bright as Heaven Review
Title: As Bright as Heaven
Author: Susan Meissner
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
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.
Let me start out by saying- by the end of this book I was completely changed. As Bright As Heaven wholeheartedly altered my view of death and the way people handle it.
At first I was not totally enthralled with the story. It took me a little bit to get into it. But that is probably more because I don’t usually read this type of historical fiction than lack of anything on Meissner’s part. However, somewhere around the time the Spanish flu was in full swing I could not put this book down.
The story is told by alternating points of view- which I loved. Meissner was able to capture each of the daughters’ and the mother’s personalities beautifully. I loved reading the different perspectives and how each one was effected differently by the war and the flu.
I LOVED the fact that Meissner wrote about WWI and the Spanish flu. I was just talking to a co-worker the other day about the fact that there was 4 books on the best sellers list that took place during WWII-II. It feels like we are over saturated with WWII historical fiction, which is why having As Bright As Heaven take place during WWI was actually part of the reason I chose to read it. I was excited to read a book that took place during a time that is not really talked about much or even written about.
Meissner wrote about death in a way that I have never seen before. I found myself wondering about how I thought of death and how people close to me thought of death. It is a matter that is rarely talked about in our society. I found it completely freaky that the main characters wanted to work with the dead. I could never do that or even want to do that. Nevertheless, the way Maggie and Pauline talked about the dead and the way they wanted to take care of them really made me think. I still would never be able to do it but I understood why they wanted to.
As Bright As Heaven made ma cry like few books have before. I’m not sure why I didn’t think a book that takes place during the heart of the Spanish flu and WWI wouldn’t be heartbreaking- it just didn’t cross my mind. Parts of this book will truly gut you. But it is completely worth the gutting.
In all, I loved this book. It was so well written and thought out. The way Meissner pulls the reader in and forces them to care for the characters is amazing. I especially loved Part Two of the book. Watching the girls grow up and deal with the aftermath of the flu was heartbreaking. To see the characters so devastated and lost hurt but it was so fulfilling to see them put their lives back together and realize that life just keeps going- whether you want it to or not. Meissner had one of her characters use the metaphor of the train keeps going, even if you are not on it. Meaning life will keep going whether you realize it or not.
My favorite character in this book was Maggie. She made the statement that everything changes but home will always be home. Even home may change but it is still home. I loved that. I loved her. I loved this book. I loved everything. To me, it was Maggie that went through the most changes and developed the most. I really enjoyed watching her character grow from a young teen to a young woman.
This is an incredibly written novel that takes place during a horrendous time in history. The characters will snatch your heartstrings and never let them go- they are so well written and the story is so well developed. It was truly an extraordinary experience reading this novel!