The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones is a beautifully written and utterly gut-wrenching story. It is about the life, death, and after-life of a young girl, as she watches her family from Heaven.

Susie Salmon was lured into a field one afternoon on her way home from school, by a neighbour who had built an underground bunker hidden among the corn stalks. In that place, he rapes, murders and dismembers Susie. Later he disposes of her by locking the pieces of her body into an old safe and dumping everything into a sinkhole outside of town.

The identity of Susie’s murderer is not a secret to the reader. We experience the story from her perspective as she watches from Heaven, following Mr. Harvey, as well as her family and friends, watching them deal with the immediate news of her death and on through the years.

The Lovely Bones takes place over a period of 15 years or so. Initial chapters follow Susie’s parents, sister and brother over the course of a year. During this period, Susie is both watching events unfold on Earth and exploring the afterlife.

In her Heaven, a person can have almost anything they like. It is a peaceful place that is safe, comforting and in a way, timeless. But spirits are trapped there until they learn to let go of those still on Earth. As long as she is tied to her loved ones and to her murderer, and desires answers to burning questions – like why me – Susie will not be able to move one to what is next.

The remainder of the story unfolds with increasingly large leaps in the timeline. Susie is learning to let go of her Earthly life and death and so is her family. By the end of the book, they don’t often think or speak of her. Not because the pain of loss is removed, or because they love her any less, but because she is no longer there. The living have to keep living. This change isn’t sad. Susie wants her loved ones to be happy and truly live, and she delights in experiencing things she missed through others.

One of those moments is when her younger sister has sex for the first time. Susie is so happy for her sister, that she had a special connection with a boy she loves and that her first time is so gentle, romantic, and a tender moment of connection between two individuals… everything that Susie herself was robbed of.

This story is understandably tragic just from the material that is discussed, but the author’s rendition of the events is chilling. She isn’t too graphic in her description or Susie’s rape or murder but her understanding of the grief that envelopes each person that Susie knew is astounding. Between her disappearance and the memorial service three months later, this loss is viewed from the perspectives of her parents and siblings, her grandmother, her teacher, her crush, a classmate and a neighbour.

So many people are affected by her loss, and the reader can’t help but experience it with them. I felt like it was my cousin, my classmate, my neighbour going through such a tragedy.

One of things in this book which really stuck out to me, is that the people whom you expected to feature prominently didn’t always. Very little is discussed about Susie’s best friend and Susie doesn’t follow her life the way she does another classmate whom she barely knew, but who was so changed by this life experience. And although Susie does haunt her murderer Mr. Harvey, as time drags on, years go by without her checking on him.

It has been a very long time since a story has touched me so deeply throughout the entire book. I don’t know if I have ever cried this much through a story. The fact that this was the author’s first novel is crazy. I definitely plan to read more of what she has written. But at the same time, I don’t think I will ever be able reread The Lovely Bones.

* * * * *

Post-script spoiler

The ending of this book was surprising to me. I really thought that Lin would eventually catch Mr. Harvey. I still felt he got what was coming to him in the end, but it burns that he lived his whole life as a pedophile, a serial rapist and a serial killer, without ever paying for his crimes against so many women and children. I was also devastated that no one ever found Susie’s body. With all the talk of fixing the sinkhole and building a subdivision over top, I truly thought that eventually someone would make that gruesome discovery. I wanted that closure for her family.

xx

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