The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is not an easy book to begin. From the start, readers are treated to the horrifying description of Susie Salmon's death. The year is 1973, and fourteen-year-old Susie is walking home from school. As she crosses the corn field that separates the school from her suburban neighborhood, she is stopped by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. He tells her of a small fort that he has dug into the ground of the field. Something about the situation doesn't feel right to Susie, but her curiosity gets the better of her. As she enters the ramshackle lair, Mr. Harvey reveals his true intentions.

Amidst calls from Susie's mother to come to dinner, Harvey gags the girl, rapes her, murders her, and mutilates her body. As her family begins to worry about her whereabouts, Mr. Harvey is collapsing the subterranean hideaway, placing her dismembered body into an old safe, and tossing it into the local sinkhole. The graphic brutality of the opening of this novel is not easy to stomach. There is no sugarcoating the violence that Susie endures. As she narrates every detail of the ordeal, readers suffer through the agonizing torture as if it were their own.

Thankfully, this gruesome prologue gives way to an enthralling story that explores the despair, regret, and imbalance of emotions that comes with death. Susie narrates the entire novel from heaven. We learn that each person has their own unique version of heaven, one that contains the places and things that they love and desire. Residents of this afterlife can overlap into other peoples' heavens, depending on their version. Susie soon meets other young girls and even has a run in with her deceased Grandfather. But there are limitations to this hereafter as well. Despite her deepest wishes, Susie will never age. She will never grow into the young woman that she could have been. Frozen in time at the exact age that she was at the time of her death, Susie begins to observe the people that she left behind.

From her perch in the great beyond, Susie sees her parents, struggling to cope with the death of their eldest daughter while maintaining their relationship for the sake of their younger two children. She watches her father shatter an office full of bottled ships that the two built together. Her mother slowly retreats from her position as the family matriarch, and her eccentric grandmother moves into the house to take the reigns.  Her sister feels the burden of loss as the teachers and children at school all look to her with pity and remorse. And her youngest brother, too young to even comprehend the gravity of the situation, begins to speak to his missing sister.

She looks in on her classmates as well. The only boy she ever kissed, the quiet girl who sensed Susie's presence as she transitioned from one world to the next, both kids are haunted by the loss of their friend. Susie begins the "what if" questions, wondering where her relationship with the boy could have gone, how her friendship with the girl could have grown. The descriptions of these students show the ways in which Susie's death rocked not only her family, but the entire community.

Finally, she observes her killer. Mr. Harvey tries to move on with his life. As she witnesses her father confront the man about his strange behavior, Susie, comes to a stunning realization. She was not his first victim! She sees into his past and discovers the origins of the monster he became. While part of her wants revenge against the man, the purity of her soul overcomes these willful intentions. Mostly, she wants to see justice for herself and the other victims. As her father and sister begin to grow more suspicious of Harvey, Susie wills them to discover the obscure clues that he left behind.

Sebold writes a remarkable tale of love, loss, and legacy. As Susie watches her family grieve, love, and ultimately move on, the reader feels the emotion of each character through the girl's plain spoken, yet mature observations. The end brings an unnecessary subplot of spiritual possession that nearly reaches the over sentimentality of a bad romantic story. Even this minor bump in the narrative does not deter from the brilliant authenticity of the rest of the novel. This story of transition and acceptance, both by the deceased narrator and the people she left behind, is the kind of tale that will keep readers up late in the night. First to finish the book and then to reflect upon the rich, haunting, and hopeful experience that it provides.

For more information, visit the authors website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2015, 25)

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2 Responses to “The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold”

  1. I loved reading this one, and glad you could as well. It really did show how grief can shatter a family, and I loved the way Sebold didn't just focus on the family and main characters, but also the secondary ones so that we could understand the way it touched them too. I found the romance a bit annoying and well, the spiritual thing you mentioned was really out of place - but oh well. I later learned that Alice Sebold herself was raped in her lifetime... which is probably by she included this as part of Susie's story too.

    1. I didn't know that about Sebold. That explains the graphic details. It seems the characters in all of the books I'm reviewing this month are dealing with death in some way. I've got an unplanned theme going!


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