With the release of The Lovely Bones movie approaching, I thought I’d read Alice Sebold’s book of the same name. I was initially intrigued by the unique concept of 14-year-old Susie Salmon narrating the book from heaven. She’s in heaven because was raped and murdered as she walked home from junior high school by her neighbor, George Harvey. I’ll be honest, that first chapter was difficult to get through and I questioned if I could continue reading. But the following chapters, while sad, also contain moments of happiness, hope, and love.
Susie’s heaven is personalized to the things she likes – the high school she was never able to attend, a duplex, and lots of friendly dogs. Unfortunately she’s unable to fully experience heaven because she can’t seem to let go of the people she left behind, and she spends most of her time watching them down on Earth. Much of the story is about her family and friends and how they cope with her death: her father becomes obsessed with finding her killer, her mom just checks out, her sister struggles with her own identity, or the Walking Dead Syndrome – “when other people see the dead person and they don’t see you.” It’s not a murder mystery or a thriller, but the story of how a family and community react to such a horrifying crime.
The premise of The Lovely Bones is sad, but I thought the book was touching without being overly emotional. Susie seems to accept what happened and while she longs to be able to grow up and experience love, she’s not bitter. She watches her family during the years after her death and describes them matter-of-factly, yet their grief is certainly palpable. I think Sebold presents a realistic portrait of a family dealing with a tragedy that is just unimaginable to most people.
The title The Lovely Bones refers to the idea that “bones” or the death of a loved one is the framework on which new connections and friendships are built. Susie says, “These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence… The events that 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 body had been my life.” I love this passage because it’s a thought-provoking and positive take on the events that happened after her death.
As much as I liked the book, I thought it started out really strong but then sort of fizzled in the second half. The story began to drift and, in my opinion, lost the tension that made the first part of the book so great. Sebold also throws in a twist at the end that I didn’t particularly care for. But I will say that it’s a memorable book, one that I won’t soon forget.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Back Bay Books | Pages: 368 | Source: Purchased | Buy on Amazon