REVIEW: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

Over the next ten weeks I will be reading and reviewing the shortlisted books for the inaugural YA Book Prize. I’m thrilled that the diverse and thriving UK YA scene is being celebrated. I’m also thrilled that this is the last time I have to think of something new to be excited about. This is the end of the road, folks.


The Ghosts of Heaven is a story in four parts, or more accurately, it is four stories which are entwined in mysterious ways. The four quarters of the book can be read in any order, though they are presented in chronological order. One: a cave girl and her tribe, written in free verse. Two: a witch hunt claims its victims. Three: a new doctor arrives at a lunatic asylum and befriends a charismatic patient. Four: we follow the custodian of New Earth’s population, floating through space. Their stories are flung far apart in time and space, but by the nature of the spiral, they’re all connected.

This is a truly awesome novel. The scope alone encompassed between these pages is astonishing. Sedgwick delves into our past, and then all the way into our theoretical future. It’s a high concept novel, and there are dense layers of philosophy and ethics within the text. Yet each quarter, each short story feels completely nourished and fulfilled. The writing style varies so that it matches the period each story is set in. There are no short cuts here. Though they work as a cohesive whole, you could read any of the quarters in isolation and enjoy them. Each is a microcosm of the book’s themes as a whole: humanity, madness, desire, discovery. The whole human experience is here.

Personally, my enjoyment increased with each quarter, with the final one being far and away my favourite. It’s a perfect sci-fi thriller, and I would happily have read a whole book of ‘The Song of Destiny’. ‘The Easiest Room in Hell’ is beautiful and devastating, but reads nothing like YA. The Ghosts of Heaven‘s classification as a YA novel is bizarre to me, as I found very little of it specific in appeal or relevance to young adults. Of course YA can tackle big, universal topics, but I expect something to signal it as aimed at teenagers, and I didn’t get that with The Ghosts of Heaven. I just read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, and felt the same way. Both absolutely stunning novels, with potential appeal to a wide multigenerational audience.

For this (dubious) reason, I hesitate to champion The Ghosts of Heaven for the YA Book Prize. I think it should win lots of prizes, but it doesn’t read as vital reading for young adults in the same way as other books on the shortlist. It’s an extraordinary achievement, though, and the hardback edition is gorgeous to boot, so I encourage you to rush out and buy a copy.


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