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Book Club Kits: As Bright As Heaven

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Susan Meissner

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Book Summary

  • "From the darkest hours rises life in all its glory...From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love. In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life. Their dreams are short-lived. Just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges that surround them, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it. Under the Canopy of Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it"-- Provided by publisher.
  • Read an excerpt.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think it would be like to live in a city experiencing a pandemic, as Philadelphia did with the flu? Do you think the Bright family made the best choices for their survival? Would you have handled things differently?


2. How do you think the fact that the Brights were living in a funeral home changed their experience of the flu and the way they reacted to it?


3. How would you describe the family dynamics among the Bright sisters and the rest of the family before the flu? How about after? Do the Bright sisters remind you of people you know?


4. How did the Spanish flu pandemic shape the Bright sisters’ adult lives? Did you experience a life-defining event in your childhood? How did it affect you?


5. Would As Bright as Heaven be a dramatically different story if it were from the point of view of only one character instead of four? How?


6. Could you relate to Pauline’s relationship with Death after the loss of her infant son and the move to Philadelphia? Why or why not?


7. Discuss Maggie’s actions on the day she found the baby. How did her choices affect her family? Do you empathize with her decisions?


8. Why do you think Maggie decided to take on Pauline’s work at the funeral home after her mother died? How do you think that work changed her as she grew up?


9. Why do you think Evie chose to become a psychiatrist?


10. What do you think of Evie’s final solution to her dilemma regarding Conrad? What would you have done?


11. Why do you think fourteen-year-old Willa was drawn to the speakeasy?


12. Forgiving Pauline’s parents wasn’t easy for Thomas Bright. Do you think what happened to Pauline was their fault? In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of forgiving someone?


13. Pauline imagined her mother telling her, “The heart always does what it needs to do.” Do you think that is true?


14. The subtle presence of butterflies recurs throughout the book. How many references to them can you recall? What do they signify?


15. Has this novel changed you or your perspective on life and death? Did you learn something new about yourself or the way you think?

About the Author

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of  Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.


Visit Susan on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at