Book review: The Heavens

Chelsea Mancilla, Guest Writer


At first glance, “The Heavens” by Sandra Newman has a unique plot. It is about a woman that has gone back in time while she sleeps to Elizabethan England, but she has difficulty grasping the concept and it affects her 21st century life. Her love interests include a Ph.D student, Ben, and William Shakespeare. She holds the belief that her dreams can affect reality in the past, and therefore can affect the future. She notices small changes, even the fact that she is the only one that remembers carving sigils on her family’s furniture, but can no longer find the sigils. 

Reading the book was difficult because the story was moved by Ben’s interactions with Kate and her nonsensical meandering thoughts and actions. No matter how much I wanted to learn what would happen next, I did not see how Kate’s life as Emilia Lanier affected the 21st century. I thought the scenes with Emilia were more interesting, but they fell short of capturing the sensations of the time period. Transitions in and out of the scenes were as abrupt as waking up from the dream, which may be the author’s purpose. 

I thought that the story’s characters were flat yet wonderfully curious at the same time. In the beginning of the book, Kate lives with her school friend, Sabine. Sabine is a wealthy activist that lets all sorts of people live in her apartment, including a congresswoman from Maine, environmental activists, and mail order brides. Sabine shares how she and Kate met and discussed Kate’s belief that she was from another world called Albion. I don’t understand what kept them together. Especially after the world of Albion was declared a fraud by the other children and Sabine did not defend Kate. It leaves me wondering why Kate would continue to be Sabine’s friend, and vice versa.

“The Heavens” by Sandra Newman was a disappointment to me because the characters lacked development. There is a lot of emotional conflict, but it is always told from the third-person perspective, which is very straight-forward and technical. The reader gets told what to feel instead of being led into the emotion through indirect literary devices. I also felt that the author missed out on describing important scenes. 

In chapter seven, Newman begins with, “The next day was Sunday, the day Kate saw her parents. Ben, as they’d decided the night before, would come and meet them for the first time.” 

In my opinion, the conversation between Kate and Ben is an important milestone in their relationship and should have been described more thoroughly. 

While reading the book, I always had one question in mind, “Why should Kate be important to me? How do her actions affect me as a reader?” I couldn’t fathom a reason why Kate should be important to me as a reader. Kate’s 21st century life seemed to be told from an emotionless perspective. For example, “Two weeks later, Ben and Kate moved in together. Everything was good between them for a very long time. It was a wonderful autumn.” 

We only catch glimpses of what brings Kate and Ben together, and even less about Emilia and her relationships.

“The Heavens” fell short of my expectations as a romance novel, and did not hit the mark as historical non-fiction. In sum, this may be a book that requires a certain taste, and I truly ask readers to challenge themselves this week. It is not guaranteed that you will like every book you may pick up, but you will never know unless you try.


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