The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
Published by Macmillan on January 6th 2015
Genres: General, Historical, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Timeless, beautiful, and haunting, spirals connect the four episodes of The Ghosts of Heaven, the mesmerizing new novel from Printz Award winner Marcus Sedgwick. They are there in prehistory, when a girl picks up a charred stick and makes the first written signs; there tens of centuries later, hiding in the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who people call a witch; there in the halls of a Long Island hospital at the beginning of the 20th century, where a mad poet watches the oceans and knows the horrors it hides; and there in the far future, as an astronaut faces his destiny on the first spaceship sent from earth to colonize another world. Each of the characters in these mysterious linked stories embarks on a journey of discovery and survival; carried forward through the spiral of time, none will return to the same place.
I’ve never read a book quite like The Ghosts of Heaven and I definitely went outside of my comfort zone when I decided to pick this one up. The cover art and book summary were intriguing though, and I decided to give it a shot. As I’m writing this review it’s been a couple of weeks since I finished this book, and I still can’t say for certain what my thoughts and feelings are about it. All I know is that I still think about it from time to time and wonder what exactly it was all about. Which I suppose is the sign of a well-written book.
The Ghosts of Heaven is broken up into four separate short stories, that are distinct in tone and style from one another, but when put together as a collection, you can see the thread of commonality that runs through them all. In the introduction of the book the author explains that you can read the collection in order, or you can read in whatever order you’d like. I chose to read them in order because that’s just the kind of person I am. Even before I got into the first story, I was sucked in by the introduction. It was a beautifully written account of the beginning of the universe, and being the science geek that I am, I totally loved it. As a matter of fact, I would say it was my favorite part of the entire book.
As I mentioned, the book is broken into four very different sections. Part one is set during pre-historic times and focuses on a young girl trying to become a larger presence in her tribe. She knew there was something more to her existence. Along her journey she likely discovers the first form of written communication but because of certain circumstances she never gets the chance to share her knowledge. This portion of the book was written in verse and I really enjoyed how the writing really conveyed not only what, but also exactly how the character was thinking.
The second section focuses on a young woman who is trying to tap into the power passed down to her through her lineage. She’s faced with an extremely bleak set of circumstances and is continually trying to determine the source of the mysteries that surround her. This story was really depressing for me and I just couldn’t shake the bleakness of the main character’s situation.
The third story takes part during the turn of the 20th century and is set in an insane asylum. I found this story pretty creepy and there were times I felt so haunted by some of the characters. It’s the story of a doctor and his daughter who come to live in the building with its patients, and how they adjust to that life. As you get further in, you start to learn about one of the patients there who has an inexplicable knowledge of the doctor and his past. By the end the story takes on a little bit of a twist and I was actually pretty pleased with where it left me.
The last story is set some time in the distant future on a space station travelling to the far reaches of the galaxy in search of a new home for the human race. We follow one of the people on the ship and as the story progresses we learn along with him that things are not exactly what they seem to be on board. Out of all the stories in this book, the ending of this one really confused me. I’m still not certain I understand exactly what happened.
I did find the fact that each story had a common thread to be extremely compelling and intriguing. I liked how the author found ways to introduce that theme in each story in a distinct but cohesive way. Each time the theme popped up it was a lightbulb moment for me.
This book is beautifully written and the imagery and symbolism was amazing. Although I do have to admit that sometimes I didn’t quite get the symbolism and that frustrated me. Overall, I had a hard time connecting to this book, and that was my major disappointment with it. In my mind, you can have the most beautifully written words but if I can’t connect to them I’m left feeling like something fell short.
This book is certainly not going to appeal to everyone, but when all is said and done I decided to give it three stars. While I didn’t find a connection to any of the stories, I can still appreciate how well it was written and the value of the book as a whole. I would suggest giving it a try to see for yourself if it’s a book you enjoy. Then come back here and let me know what you think, as this book is sure to spark some lively discussions.
Many thanks to Brittany at Book Addicts Guide for allowing me to borrow her ARC! Her fabulous generosity in no way affected my review.