BOOK REVIEW: Heaven Has No Regrets by Tessa Shaffer
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Smith Publicity for accepting my request to read and review this book via NetGalley.
Heaven Has No Regrets tells the story of cousins – and best friends – Makenzie and Faith. Jumping between the present (where one of the girls is dealing with the grief accompanying the death of the other) and the past (where Faith gets diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and Makenzie suffers from bulimia), this novel is part mystery, part contemporary and part guidebook to dealing with loss.
Unfortunately, no matter how heartless it makes me, I really didn’t like this book. I feel terrible for saying it, because it was based on a true story and it’s obvious that Tessa Shaffer poured her heart and soul into Makenzie and Faith’s story, but I had a lot of problems with it.
Primarily, my issue is with the choice to make the death of one of the cousins into a mystery. It would have been far more impactful and emotional if we had known which cousin died earlier in the novel, rather than leaving the reveal until one of the final few chapters. I’m sure Tessa Shaffer was attempting to make the character’s grief non-specific, so that readers could relate to it and put themselves into her shoes. Instead it felt like a ploy to get readers to keep turning the pages. If the characters had been fleshed out a bit better, readers would feel as though they wanted to carry on reading even without that non-chronological flash into the future. Instead, we’re left with two named characters and the rest of the characters described as ‘the boy with the motorcycle’ or ‘the boy with the mohawk’, not even given names. It was impossible to keep the background characters straight because they had no descriptions or defining characteristics, and the story suffered because of it.
My other major issue with this story is the triggering way that Makenzie’s eating disorder is discussed. There are graphic descriptions of the way she purges, and it was wholly unnecessary. These issues should be handled with sensitivity, but there was no gentle or careful way of talking about the subject, it was very blunt and felt very harmful. If these descriptions had occurred earlier in the novel I would have DNFed it, but because I was already over halfway through by the time they cropped up I forced myself through the story, to the detriment of my own mental health. If you’re someone who suffers with eating disorders or finds yourself triggered by graphic descriptions of bulimia, this is certainly one to avoid.
The first line of dialogue isn’t spoken until the 8% mark, which makes the beginning of the book a slog to get through. I found Faith’s Crohn’s diagnosis interesting, and would have liked it if that had been explored a bit more thoroughly, but the focus is very much on the way she feels before her diagnosis and the bitter attitude that she has towards the medication she requires to manage the symptoms of the disease. I can’t remember reading a novel featuring a character with Crohn’s before, and this book is not a very memorable exploration of it. I was also beyond disgusted by the emotional blackmail that Faith uses, threatening to stop taking her medication every time that Makenzie purges. The way to help a family member with an eating disorder is not to threaten them, and the fact that this isn’t addressed is extremely worrying.
The only reason that I’m giving this book two stars is because the ruminations on grief in between the chapters were very thought-provoking and insightful. If Tessa Shaffer had chosen to write a non-fiction book with these inspirational quotes, I think it would have been a bestseller. They really make you consider the way that you live your life and give you a newfound appreciation for the people around you. I’ve been holding my babies much closer and prioritising spending more quality time with them, and I’m grateful for that.
Thanks for reading,