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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?
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 www.facebook.com/susan.meissner