This was a storyline that intrigued me – a young girl, Susie, is murdered and then looks down from Heaven at her family and observes how they deal with their grief, and also looks down upon her murderer as he goes unpunished for her death. I had delayed reading this book for a long time, even though it had been highly recommended to me, because I worried that the depiction of a young girl being raped and murdered would be too graphic and upsetting to read. In the end I was very glad I decided to read it, I got a great deal from the book and I think it is one that will always stay in my mind.

I was very impressed with the author’s version of Heaven, and greatly comforted by it. Susie’s experience of Heaven is that it is different for each person and meets their own individual wants and needs. She finds that a person goes through stages to different Heavens depending on their ability to deal with their death and how they come to terms with no longer interacting with the people on Earth – when a person is willing to let Earth go and stop asking ‘why me?’ then they move to the next stage of Heaven. This idea of stages I found particularly interesting, and seemed similar to the different stages we move through in real life as we grow and develop. I also took great comfort in the fact that Susie is able to still watch her family and, even though she is frustrated that she cannot interact with them, they can feel her presence. (And I also liked that her dog appeared in Heaven after he died, I found myself keeping my fingers crossed that this would happen!). It is also admirable that the author does not make out Heaven is a completely wonderful place – Susie still feels lonely there and greatly misses her family, and is very frustrated that she can only observe not intervene, particularly when she watches other crimes being committed by her murderer. Her guilt at hoping that her father would die, when he was ill, so she can have him with her is beautifully portrayed – she knows the loss will hurt the rest of her family and yet she is so desperate for his company.

The story did jump around a bit, which I found confusing at times, going from present day and Susie looking down from Heaven, to a day just after her murder, to a year before her murder – but perhaps this was intended to represent how a young girl would truly think, and often how we process our own thoughts, by jumping from memory to memory and from past to present.

Our knowledge of the murderer’s identity is a clever decision by the author as, instead of us constantly trying to look for clues and thinking who the killer could be, we can focus instead on the family. Most books dealing with a crime focus on the criminal or the detective, rarely with the family trying to cope with their loss and how this affects them through the rest of their lives.

It is a beautiful book, very sensitive and gentle in the way it deals with family love and the need to belong and feel needed, and in the way it portrays how differently people deal with grief – the father feels guilt that he could not protect his daughter, the sister greatly misses her sibling but feels she is being defined by her dead sister rather than as a person in her own right, and the mother wants to escape the grief by pulling away from the rest of her family.

I think this novel is a very unusual and memorable one. All the ideas of Heaven are fascinating and I found particular interest in these, but the book as a whole is a great read, very intelligent, full of unusual ideas, charming and innocent in places yet tense and quite graphic in others. Definitely a book I would recommend to others.