Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

ATTENTION: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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.

My Thoughts:

This book moved incredibly slowly and after reading over 200 pages, it felt like the plot was going nowhere. There were several events that did not need to be mentioned at all, and the deletion of these would have gone a long way towards picking up the pace and cutting down the overall length. While I thought the plot seemed interesting, Meissner did not do enough with the story. Meissner also did an awful lot of telling and not showing. Rather than witness a character overcome an obstacle, we were merely told it happened in one sentence. Rather than witness a character go through an emotional journey or experience, we were told it happened in a line. This is poor storytelling and only serves to keep the reader at a distance from the material. I felt no connections to this story or any characters.

It seemed to me that many characters did things that were very out of character. When Willa gets the flu and Pauline tends to her, Pauline neglects to take proper precautions for days and ultimately dies while Willa survives. After Pauline’s vigilance towards other flu patients, I find it shocking that she would so willingly and stupidly risk her life like that, knowing she has two other children to care for. And I’m still fuming that Meissner killed off Pauline under the pretense of reuniting her with her dead son in heaven. As someone whose mother did die, I can tell you that it’s infuriating to think and be told she’s in a better place. Pauline should have lived with her remaining children and survived.

I found Maggie incredibly infuriating. It seems that Meissner couldn’t decide if she should be mature or immature. On the one hand, her bizarre crush on the older soldier next door was unfounded in any real interactions and proved to make Maggie into a foolish child. And the entire Maggie taking Alex situation was simply odd. She turned someone else’s child into her pet, taking him and demanding to keep him because she wanted him. This was so incredibly immature and, well, ridiculous.

Granted I only read about half of the book, but the representation I did read was infuriating. And by that, I mean the overall lack of it. There was an overwhelming amount of white people in this story, which doesn’t entirely make sense seeing that this book takes place in Philadelphia in the twentieth century. People of color existed and should have been represented in this story. Virtually the only people of color that were mentioned were made off to be unintelligent, illiterate in English, desperately poor, and desperately in need of white saviors, of which Meissner provided plenty. While the story was told by the women and girls of the central family, the book was still overwhelmingly about men and their actions. I’m also not sure if Fred was supposed to be coded as gay because he lived alone and never took a wife or had children, but maybe I’m reading into that in the hopes that at least one character in this book wasn’t heterosexual.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was exceptionally disappointing. I really enjoyed Meissner’s earlier book, Secrets of a Charmed Life, but I did not think this new one lives up to it or the hype. I would not recommend this book and would not read any other book of hers.

This book is…

slow

surface level

too long

trying too hard

boring

Publisher: Berkley Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 0399585966

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read As Bright As Heaven? Do you ever stop reading a book halfway through?

I am an affiliate with Book Depository and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

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