The Ghosts of Heaven
by Marcus Sedgwick
Publication: Roaring Book Press on January 6, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Time Travel
The spiral dance.
The spinning top in her brother's hands.The waterwheel.The carving under the water.The rope at her neck.Timeless, beautiful, and haunting, spirals connect the four episodes of this mesmerizing 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 twentieth century, where a mad poet watches the ocean 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.
What to say about this book?
I'm not quite certain what compelled me in the first place to give this book a try, as Ghosts of Heaven is definitely not my usual reading selection. However, after reading, I do suppose I'm happy I stuck through the 360 pages, reading on to the end.
Ghosts of Heaven is split up into four extremely different short stories, all written in extremely different styles of writing, all taking place at four extremely different times in history. What connects the four stories together however, is a shape, a coil, a never ending curvature, the simplest of all forms that connects us to the past, present, and future: the spiral.
As the reader journeys on through different lives, different stories, and different times, the mystery of the spiral is slowly unraveled as Marcus Sedgwick forces us to think, to ponder about this one form and how it somehow in some way connects everything.
I usually am not a fan of books split up in such a way, however, I do think in this special case, the four short stories could work together as a whole.
QUARTER ONE: Whispers in the Dark
Set in prehistoric times. Written in free verse. A story of a girl and her tribe journeying, venturing, hunting, "making magic," writing. Spirals are most apparent in this opening quarter: the spiraling fronds of ferns, the spiraling shells of snails, the coil of the snake, the flying formation of the falcon.
In my opinion, Whispers in the Dark was the most difficult to love. Perhaps it may be attributed to the free verse, or for the strange ways of these ancient people, or maybe, for another, unknown reason. As I found to be true with the other three quarters, the story improves and intrigues more as it progresses.
QUARTER TWO: The Witch in the Water
Set in historic England. Written as per usual. The story of a girl, Anna Tunstall, wrongly accused of witchcraft, perhaps dealt the wrong cards of heaven. Person after person, supposed friends, lovers, neighbors, all, one-by-one, turn against Anna as "evidence" piles up against her.
The Witch in the Water was by far my favorite of the four. It was a bit easier to immerse myself into this second quarter as I was used to the familiar writing style.
QUARTER THREE: The Easiest Room in Hell
1920s America. An asylum overlooking the sea. Written similarly to "diary-type" entries. Intriguing. A doctor, Doctor James, meets a crazed poet with the most unusual fear for the spiral form.
This quarter piqued my interest as, like Doctor James, I wanted, needed to find out the answer to the mystery of the spiral, and why it haunted the poet so.
QUARTER FOUR: The Song of Destiny
The future. A spaceship spiraling towards New Earth with 500 "Longsleep" occupants on board dying mysteriously as the decades pass by overnight . . . first six . . . then one . . . then eight . . .
My second favorite of the four. It reminded me very similarly to that of Interstellar.
All in all, Ghosts of Heaven was intriguing, though written unalike many other YA reads. However interesting, it was difficult to understand, process, connect, and rather unfortunately, was not quite my taste. Marcus Sedgwick does not give answers, but instead, leaves the reader foraging on their own journey to discover the mysterious secrets of space, time, and the universe: the secret of the spiral.