Katie didn’t wake up expecting to die. And yet, that’s exactly how A Thousand Rooms begins. As Katie stands on the street, watching emergency responders attend to her body, she waits for whatever comes next. Nothing comes, and Katie is forced to drift about the earth alone in search of her individual heaven, the meaning of her life, and any other souls who can help her.
I’ve long been a fan of Helen Jones’s Ambeth series, and I really enjoyed seeing her take on a different genre and world in A Thousand Rooms. The novel reads like contemporary fiction but has a lovely touch of fantasy and a good helping of romance (which came as a pleasant surprise after all of Katie’s struggles!). As usual, Jones’s writing is descriptive and detailed, and she beautifully brings to life the various settings (real and imagined) throughout the novel.
As a protagonist, Katie is a strong character. She has a deep love for her family, a clever set of problem-solving skills, and a bit of a potty mouth (which I really love, but some may find offensive). I appreciated how Katie remained headstrong and steadfast in her search for heaven, even after several obstacles sent her crashing (sometimes literally) back down to Earth. At times, she did get a little whiney for me … but hey, if I were dead and left to wander Earth alone, I know I’d bitch, too.
The novel has a steady pace, with a good balance of action and introspection. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a little less reflection on Katie’s life and more of the various heavens, but I understand why Jones chose to portion the novel as she did, and it works well. If I had to describe A Thousand Rooms in one word, it would be bittersweet. Katie’s emotions are raw and realistic, and as someone who deeply empathizes with others (and is a bit homesick herself), I found myself tearing up at several points throughout the novel. Sometimes, I grieved with Katie for her lost life, while at other times, I happy-cried for her moments of joy. Maybe I’m just a sucker … or maybe Jones has written a fantastic, emotionally resonant novel. (You can let me know after you read it!)
Overall, A Thousand Rooms is a beautiful journey that reminds the reader to appreciate every moment and focus on the “blessed” things in their life. While at times sad and introspective, it is also unfailingly hopeful and full of joy and love. Jones has crafted an endearing heroine, an uplifting love story, and a captivating vision of the afterlife (I wouldn’t mind if this novel were right!). Highly recommended for those who like strong female characters, coming-of-age narratives, and true love — just keep the tissues nearby!
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