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.
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