As Bright as Heaven is a novel that feels like a friend by the time one finishes it. The storytellers, a mother and her three daughters, each add their own perspective and emotion to the events of 1918: World War I and the Spanish flu on a global level, love and loss on a personal level. I was captivated from the beginning and sad when it ended.
The method of telling each chapter from the perspective of one of the women/girls of the Bright family reminded me of The Poisonwood Bible. Both books include families moved from all that is familiar with faith and expectations packed in their luggage. This book is not as academically written and does not make such an obvious political statement, but it also feels more real. The faith of the Bright family is ever-present but not overbearing. They struggle, make mistakes, love, forgive, and lose precious loved ones in the flu epidemic that stole more from the world than the war did.
If some of the plot twist in this novel was predictable, I think the author can be forgiven. The development of the Bright girls' characters as they grew up and the emotions elicited throughout the novel more than make up for the lack of mystery. The spotlight on the impact of the flu in Philadelphia and the setting of an undertaker business are brilliant choices that make this an original and inspirational story.
I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner is a poignant story about a young family who moves from a small town in Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to begin a new, and hopefully better, life after the death of their youngest child. The story is told from four points of view, Pauline Bright and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa.
When Thomas Bright’s Uncle, a permanent bachelor, asks him to move to Philadelphia to learn and take over his funeral pallor business, Tom sees it as a chance to lift his family out of poverty. With much hope, the family relocates and starts their new life. As everyone settles in to their new home in Philadelphia, the Great War in Europe is raging and the United States enters the conflict and Tom is called to serve his country. Not long after, the Spanish Flu makes it way to North America and to the city the Bright’s now call home.
Pauline begs her parents to let them return to Quakertown until the flu has passed. They refuse her, because they fear she will bring the flu with her and give it to her sister’s new born. Forced to stay, Pauline watches as the number of dead from the flu arrive at the funeral parlor in staggering numbers. She is careful to keep her mouth covered and those of the children. Yet as careful as she is, tragedy strikes the Bright family and Willa, the youngest, is the first to fall ill. Then just as she turns the corner toward recover, Pauline becomes ill too. Pauline fought hard against the flu in little Willa and she has no reserves left to fight her own battle with this enemy. In the end she succumbs and not long after their Uncle dies too.
Amidst all the tragedy, Tom and the girls open their home and their hearts to an orphaned boy. How can they not, when the city is now full of children that have lost their parents to the flu epidemic? Little do they realize that this one selfless decision will give them the hope and courage they will need to face the future.
As Bright as Heaven is an elegantly written, well researched, historical fiction. Ms. Meissner, knows how to write a story that pulls at your heart strings. The characters are portrayed with a realism and authenticity that is hard to find. The story flowed so nicely and the end came much too quickly. So quickly in fact, that it felt a little rushed. That aside, it is well worth reading. I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction.
For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my book blog at www.thespineview.com.
I have to admit, at first, I didn't really feel anything for this family at the beginning. I even considered packing it away. However, the more I read, the more I felt. This family went through a whole bunch of hardships most families face, but they also had the Great War and the Influenza Flu epidemic. The latter really hitting the family and those around them really bad.
I really was moved by this book and thoroughly enjoyed my journey with this family.
By the end of the book, I was actually sorry to see them go. Ending it on a somewhat more happy note really made the tears flow.
An incredible story of a family who loved, lost and lived.
Thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.