The Lovely Bones [Book Review]

Alice Sebold
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002. 328 pgs

[SPOILERS BELOW]

Plot Summary: Susie Salmon was raped and murdered on December 6, 1973 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after taking a shortcut through a cornfield home from school. The novel is a coming-of-age story. Even though Susie dies in the first chapter she continues to narrate the story and grow up while in heaven, this is noted with the change in perspective as Susie becomes more mature. This allows her to come to grips with her death and leaving her family behind. Through her eyes we watch her family get on with life after losing her.

Main Character: Susie Salmon, age fourteen is murdered by a neighbor in the 1970’s. The events shake the town and the Salmon family. Susie narrates the story for ten years after she is murdered. When alive Susie fell in love for the first time with a boy named Ray, and loved to take photographs and build things with her father.

Themes: This is another book with a great father figure who mourns the loss of his daughter with whom he was very close. Jack Salmon proceeds to take care of his other two children even after his wife leaves him for the police officer that handled Susie’s case. Other themes include: family, grief, infidelity, family dynamics, death, afterlife, murder, rape, 1970’s, suburbia, teenagers, sexuality, and growing up.

Units: Violence prevention, growing up, family, death/life, literary elements (narrator, shifting perspectives) the “coming of age tale”

Strengths: The Lovely Bones is very well written and is very appealing because it deals with issues from the perspective of a teenager. Readers can grow along with the novel and come to know Susie and sympathize with her feelings of loss but also her moments of happiness in heaven. The story is very complex and well put together and it doesn’t simply end with a death, it shows that life goes on even after loss, and that Susie still existed in the minds of her family and friends.

Personally, I loved the surreal elements of this book. Some of the passages are so beautifully written they stick with you long after you’ve finished Susie’s story. There is now also a major motion picture directed by Peter Jackson that did a good job interpreting the story and provides great visuals. I particularly liked the treatment Susie’s photographs got. The actors selected brought life to already identifiable and despicable characters  alike.

Weaknesses: There are a few graphic scenes dealing with the kidnapping, rape and murder of Susie. There are also sexual scenes throughout the novel. I don’t personally feel these are weaknesses because the events are driven by what happens in real life and, a mature audience can get so much out of the story.

I don’t believe in the censorship of literature and this is one book that has been contested in certain districts. I  find this amusing as it generally adds more fuel to the fire and makes kids more curious about the contents of any given banned book!

Comments:
·    About the Title: “These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections – sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent – that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life.”  -Susie Salmon (narrator)

·    “The novel has been assigned in many secondary-school English classes despite the complexity of its storyline and the grimness of its subject matter. It also remains popular with reading groups.”  -Wikipedia

·    Susie chooses an icicle as being the perfect weapon (because the evidence melts away) and in the end her killer meets a very fitting end.

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