26 December 2014

Review: Heaven Sent by Amanda Bews

A Book of Two Halves

Heaven Sent is a contemporary young adult novel set in Australia and New Zealand. While it had some real strengths, there were also some weaknesses, and these outweighed the strengths, at least for the first half of the novel. The second half was better—but I almost didn’t get that far.

The back cover blurb talks about “one drunken mistake”, a “disappearing boyfriend” and Heaven being “sent to New Zealand to ‘protect’ her father’s reputation”. On that basis, seemed pretty obvious what the “mistake” was, and just left the reader wanting it to happen already, so we could move on with the plot. Well, it took forever. The first quarter of the book was Heaven persuading the reader that she really wasn’t interested in sex. Almost eighty pages, and it could have been covered in ten. Then more introspection while Heaven realises what’s happened and fesses up to the parents (who are having their own relationship issues). All in all, we’re up to page 144 out of 279 before Heaven even sets foot in New Zealand.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the writing in this first half was good, but it wasn’t. It was slow and repetitive, with too much thinking and not enough action. The entire book is written in first person point of view from seventeen-year-old Heaven’s viewpoint, which perhaps explains the endless navel-gazing, but doesn’t excuse it.

But the really distracting thing was the editing. It seems the author and editors (yes, one editor and two copyeditors are credited) are allergic to the word “said”. No one says anything. They scowl, spit, yell, hurl, pipe up … and that’s just in the first chapter. It gets worse, with the addition of unnecessary adverbs, excessive punctuation (because it adds excitement, perhaps?!), and a minor character who starts as Ted and becomes Tom. On the plus side, the interior formatting was excellent and I liked the cover.

The pace in the second half was much better, and meant it was easier to skip over the writing issues (which were still there). The main problem in this second half was everything moved too fast. I don’t want to give spoilers so let’s just say this is Christian fiction (specifically, Seventh Day Adventist fiction), and 130 pages wasn’t long enough to make the inevitable progression in Heaven’s character arc credible. Sweet, yes, but not believable.

Overall, I give Heaven Sent one star for the first half and four for the second. Recommended for teenagers looking for issues-based Christian fiction, for fans of authors such as Elaine Fraser and Michelle Dennis Evans.

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