The Ghosts of Heaven

256p. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626721258; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781626721265.
RedReviewStarGr 7 Up—Like his Printz Award-winning Midwinterblood (Roaring Brook, 2013), the prolific Sedgwick's latest work consists of individual tales spanning centuries of time connected only by a single thread—in this case a shape; the spiral. From a mark scribbled in the dust by a girl of prehistoric times to the strands of the rope used to hang a medieval girl accused of witchcraft; from a poet plagued by madness who finds the spiral with its never-ending pattern horrifying to the one person left awake to watch over a ship full of sleepers in a state of suspended animation as they spiral through the universe looking for a new earth, each story carries a message of loss and discovery. Tying all four stories together is this one mysterious symbol, which can be found throughout nature in the shells of snails, the patterns of birds in flight, the seeds in a sunflower, and the strands of the double helix of DNA and comes to signify in these tales, a dance of death (and life). At once prosaic and wondrously metaphysical, Sedgwick's novel will draw teens in and invite them to share in the awe-inspiring (and sometimes terrifying) order and mystery that surround us all.—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK
Four related stories range chronologically from the prehistoric past, to Britain at the end of the witch hunts, to an early-twentieth-century Long Island insane asylum, and finally to a spacecraft in the distant future. In each, the image of a spiral is associated with violence and horror. Satisfyingly brain-teasing conceptual elements help compensate for the distant narrative voice and stiff characters.
Like Sedgwick's Midwinter Blood (rev. 3/13), The Ghosts of Heaven revolves (an apt verb) around a visual image -- in this case, the spiral or helix. The novel comprises four related stories, and the four parts are divided into quarters -- one for each turn of a full spiral revolution. The stories range chronologically from the prehistoric past; to rural Britain at the end of the witch hunts in the eighteenth century; to the early twentieth century, at an insane asylum on Long Island; and finally to a spacecraft in deep space and the distant future. In each, the image of the spiral is associated with violence, death, and horror. In the first three tales, it appears that "what goes around comes around"; almost from the first words, violent death is inevitable and predictable. Not until the final quarter, "The Song of Destiny," in which the story's sections are numbered according to the Fibonacci sequence, do we and the protagonist begin to see that the spiral movement through space and time makes repeated patterns, but is always moving forward. The conceptual elements of this final story are satisfyingly brain-teasing, which helps to compensate for the novel's distant narrative voice and stiff characters. deirdre f. baker

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