The Lovely Bones - by Alice Sebold

"gripping . .  packed with theology, but makes you think for yourself"

     The Lovely Bones is by far one of the most intriguing books I have ever read. It catches the reader from page one- mainly because page one includes the narrator matter-of-factly telling the reader that she was murdered. Now, don’t run away just yet. While it IS a gruesome book (and not for the light-hearted), it is not a book about murder. Yes, the plot might revolve around the events after Susie Salmon’s murder, but this is in no way what the book is about. The Lovely Bones is about grief, separation, and heaven. It also delves into the oddity one can find in the most normal of places.

        The plot moves from Susie’s murder through the events that shaped her remaining family members’ and friends’ lives. It describes the way the police, the neighbors, and friends, right after this horrid event provide support for the Salmon family. An acquaintance, Ruth Conners, becomes much more, and a first love, Ray Singh becomes part of Susie’s focus. I’m beginning to understand how dreadfully tempting it is for critics to spend an entire book review relaying plot, as I’m tempted here myself. When you find a book as gripping as The Lovely Bones you want to run through the streets telling everyone the amazing story you’ve just read. Yet, for your sake, I will refrain from this. Trust me; go read the book, people!

       Sebold’s matter-of-fact tone is instrumental to the writing of this book. By writing things in a straightforward style, she forces readers to pay attention- to think for themselves. This separates Sebold’s writing from any of the other creepy-dead-girl-mystery-hokey-murder stories libraries are stuffed with. The reader has to do a double-take on many sentences. “Heaven wasn’t perfect,” for example. This is so very far from what most views of Heaven are.

        Christian doctrine dictates heaven to be, in essence, a perfect place, so this statement is unsettling to anyone of the Christian faith. No matter what your beliefs are about the afterlife, one thing’s for sure: The Lovely Bones is packed with theology. It goes on to describe an “in-between” separating the living from the dead, therefore raising all kinds of difficult and commonly avoided questions. Is Sebold referring to  purgatory? Are we really guided by those who have passed on before us? Are there holes in the floor of heaven? And, perhaps the most difficult of all, is there really grief on the other side of life?

         While it might not be in the fore-front of the novel, Sebold surely uses this book as a warning to her readers. She uses graphic detail to imprint in the reader’s brain: THINGS AREN’T AS NORMAL AS THEY SEEM! In an essay Sebold wrote about The Lovely Bones, she describes how growing up in one of the middle-of-nowhere towns made her realize that people aren’t as normal as their cookie-cutter houses might imply. Mr. Harvey (Susie’s murderer) is a prime example. To everyone, even Susie before that dreadful night, he seems perfectly acceptable despite a few eccentric behaviors. Sebold even goes to great lengths to show several ironic meetings between Harvey and Mr. and Mrs. Salmon. While the idea of constant suspicion seems a paranoid way to live, I do not believe this is what Sebold wants her readers to feel. She herself feels deeply for those affected by these kinds of crimes and is just trying to make her readers more cautious.

          If you have responded to this essay by, “Hey, man, I was just looking for a book to read,” this book might not be for you. While the writing style is very simple, the ideas are complex and deep. Please, do yourself a favor and really think about the amazing ideas Sebold unabashedly thrusts before you as you turn the pages. And, by the way, if you see someone darting down the street screaming about some book they’ve just finished… it’s me.

    - Abbey H.

"The reader mourns for Susie as she watches her family from heaven"

       At the young age of fourteen Susie Salmon is brutally murdered. Alice Sebold gives Susie and the reader a chance to watch over the lives of the ones Susie left behind. Sebold’s first book, Lucky, was a memoir of her rape as a college freshman. She actually began The Lovely Bones before writing Lucky, but felt she should deal with her own experience before writing about someone else’s.

         In this riveting novel ten characters learn to accept certain circumstances and overcome massive obstacles. After Susie Salmon is murdered by one of her neighbors, George Harvey, at the tender age of fourteen, she narrates this story from up in heaven. Susie finds that heaven is whatever you want it to be. As she grows accustomed to living there, she is able to watch her friends and family down on Earth. Many families in this 1973 setting wanted to believe that murder could never occur in their suburban utopia. Susie’s parents refuse to believe their daughter is dead until the day Len Fenerman tells them that all of the evidence points to her death.

     Susie watches as her family grieves for her. They each attempt to deal with this tragedy in very different ways. She follows Ray Singh, the first and last boy she kissed, and Ruth Connors, the last girl she touched as she sped towards heaven. Susie watches as her loved ones fall away from each other, then come together to finally heal. Susie eventually learns to accept death as she studies her killer. “ What I think was the hardest for me to realize was that he tried each time to stop himself. He had killed animals, taking lesser lives to keep from killing a child. ” Although she tried to live her life through her sister Lindsey, she lets her go on to her own life. We see that there may be some logic in that we always want to believe our loved ones are somewhere watching us after they die.

    The mood of this piece is very remorseful and painful. The reader mourns for Susie and her family, for the desires Susie has in heaven, and for the fact that she can’t reach any of the people she loves. The themes of this story are grief, and how the characters deal with it, and love and acceptance - not only love and acceptance of the dead but also the living.

    - Olivia R.

"a powerful example of unconditional love"

      An intriguing, mesmerizing novel, The Lovely Bones is told from the perspective of a young girl murdered at the age of fourteen. Susie Salmon, an ordinary girl living in what she describes as a “perfect world”, is raped and killed in 1973. Her killer, George Harvey, persuades her to follow him into a cornfield, where he traps her. After telling the story of her gruesome death, Susie describes her experiences in heaven and watches over her family on Earth. Susie watches life back in her neighborhood and eventually decides to accept her fate. She realizes that her case may never be solved and she might have to wait until her family is in heaven to tell them what truly happened.

            While in heaven, Susie meets new friends. Len Fenerman, the main investigator in Susie’s case, analyzes the case and insists that Susie’s killer is not a suspect. From heaven, Susie watches Harvey and wishes she could tell someone about him and the harm he has done. On Earth, Susie’s parents continue to grieve in different ways. Jack, Susie’s father, practically lives out of his office and has a difficult time focusing on anything other than his daughter’s murder case. He is very persistent and constantly searches for an answer. Abigail, Susie’s mother, mourns in a much more reserved way that results in her retreating to California. The other two children, Lindsey and Buckley, are pain stricken by the loss of their sister; however, it takes much longer to sink in for them. The neighborhood where the Salmons lived is also home to many of the family’s strong supporters throughout the painful event. Even in heaven, Susie follows Ray Singh, which was her first kiss, and Ruth, who was another close friend of hers. This feeling of closeness to her family and friends helps Susie cope with her short-lived life that was brutally ended.

            The tone of this novel is painful and full of mourning, yet it is a powerful example of unconditional love. The murder of Susie helps bring the Salmon family together and make them realize the importance of life. The many characters who knew and loved Susie tell about her in a special way, which makes the story moving and personable. Sebold’s use of detailed descriptions also helps make the story more real. Throughout the novel, there are flashbacks of life before Susie’s death, that tell of the many memories the family shared, while also reinforcing the sorrowful tone of the story.

            I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone simply because of its way of drawing the reader into the story. Its powerful, unexpected beginning drew my attention and kept me eager to read throughout the whole book. After reading this book, I felt more grateful for my life and my loved ones.

    - Macy W.

"Susie is not angry or sad although she misses her family"

        The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is about a young girl named Susie who was raped and murdered in 1973 on her way home from school one day. The story takes place after her death as Susie is in heaven and watches her family deal with their grief in various ways. Her sister tries to move on and not deal with the pain of losing a sibling, her mom drifts further away from her dad, her father goes crazy with grief, and her younger brother tries to understand the meaning of death. Susie talks about what heaven is like, and how everyone pictures it in different ways. In her heaven she’s surrounded by swing sets and everything she loved on earth besides her family. All Susie wishes is that she could be back on earth with her family, and she spends most of her time trying to figure out why she was murdered. Susie watches and can see everything her family does, even a hidden kiss between her sister Lindsay and her new boyfriend.

          Sebold goes from past to present in the book. Susie will be talking about something going on with her family today, then switch to a story that happened in the past. This technique helps you understand situations with her family and makes the book more interesting to read. As you read you notice Susie is not angry or sad although she misses her family. She’s more curious to what is happening in their lives. She doesn’t understand why she was murdered because it didn’t happen very often in the 70’s. She sometimes seems indifferent throughout the story.

          I really enjoyed The Lovely Bones. Although it might seem like a sad depressing book, it really isn’t because of Sebold’s writing technique. She even finds a way to end the book happily. The Lovely Bones is not a book that will make you cry while reading it. I thought it was very interesting and I would recommend it to everyone.

    - Emily C.