I had been recommended this book for ages, so I was glad to be able to borrow it from a friend. I had been told the beginning, about a young girl of 14 years, looking down from heaven after being the victim of a horrible murder. This all happens in the first few chapters so I am not spoiling the core of the plot for you. It then explains how she observes her family and friends, and how they deal with her untimely death.
The murder itself is dealt with swiftly and brutally by the author, providing a strong first chapter with an unusual perspective from the girl herself, which allows us to step back and observe with her, alongside a reaction of shock and abhorence. However it is the reactions of her family that I found hit the hardest. I had several teary moments during this first part of the book, which were heightened by the simplicity of the language. The bits in-between, the unsaid parts of the text were what pierced me the most. The mum sinking to the floor with her hat, the dad crying into the dog.
The book does not continue with this level of emotion though, and is actually upbeat and hopeful as it covers a fair distance of time after the murder, a number of years in fact, all recounted by the victim in 'heaven'. As we follow these peoples lives, the sensitivity of the writing makes a very believable set of ongoing stories that resound around each character. We can identify easily with them, their connection to this event, how they forever carry it with them and also move on from it. In this the book remains interesting, but I found it lost some of its momentum, and the resonance of the early part of the book petered out.
I know some have found the book too idealistic, presenting an answer to an after life as a little too rosy and fantastic, a delusion. I found that I just went along with it as a possibility, a 'What if?...' scenario. It has also prompted some interesting discussions about 'What if the dead do watch us from above?' I know one person found this disturbing, to think of her relatives seeing all she does. I personally found it comforting. Everyone will bring their own experiences, beliefs and theories making this a good readers group choice.
I enjoyed it, found it lighter and more hopeful than I expected and I think it provides an interesting point for discussion on many levels.
Bookbrowse do a reading group guide with further things to think about:-