The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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The narrator of Alice Sebold’s first novel, The Lovely Bones, is dead.

Meet Susie. Susie Salmon was 14 when she was brutally raped and murdered in a cornfield near her home. Now, as her family recovers and learns to live again, she watches them from her gazebo in her heaven and begins to come to terms with her own death. Despite the brutal beginning to Susie’s death, her story becomes one of celebrating life.

By the end, there were a number of things I didn’t enjoy about this book, but overall, I found it more refreshing than that simple (and potentially gruesome) summary may sound. The Lovely Bones focuses on a brutal subject (assault and murder and the aftermath) and yet, from the beginning, the tone was calm.

Because the narrator was the one who was dead, we already knew she was “okay.” In some respects, it took the entire book for Susie and for the rest of her family to come to that understanding: it is okay to celebrate the dead, and it is okay to move on and keep living and loving.

In that sense, I think this book is about overcoming. The Lovely Bones is about forgiving our pasts enough to live with our future. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not about ignoring the cruel people among us. (I disagree with anyone who says this book encourages us to feel sorry for the murderer: I never felt anything for disgust for that man, even as I learned of his background.) What it does it remind us is that we need to keep on moving every day, instead of letting revenge simmer below the surface at the expense of life.

I listened to the audiobook, which was incredibly well narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan. An author interview followed the novel. Apparently, Alice Sebold was brutally assaulted while a freshman in college. Knowing that helped me to understand the tone of the book: Sebold’s debut novel was semi-autobiographical in that she, too, had to learn how to move beyond her horrendous experience and get back to life. This novel was sincere.

There were a few things I didn’t like, including the extreme supernatural elements, the violence in the beginning, and some of the sex content. The violence at the beginning was hard to experience as a listener. But Susie’s narration, as I said before, let it be a hopeful story. We knew the novel wasn’t all going to be about death; although Susie was narrating while dead, she seemed very much alive.

In terms of the supernatural, most of it didn’t bother me: Susie was in a non-religious heaven. I kind of liked the approach. It wasn’t like I imagine heaven will be, but it was creative enough to be appropriate for this book. An author has to be creative to describe a heaven we can imagine! (I do like the idea of sitting and watching people on earth; I hope that’s in my heaven.)

I enjoyed the book fully until about disk 9 (out of 11). *Spoilers* (highlight to read) While I realize that throughout the novel the “in between” was thin and the two worlds often became mixed up, I thought it was bit over-the-top when Ruth left her body to come to heaven and Susie entered her body so she could make love with Ray. I felt it was completely unnecessary (I am never really comfortable reading sexual scenes in fiction, although I did think this book was tastefully done), and I felt it was just an “out there” resolution. Surely, Ruth and Ray could have come to a similar understanding without the weird out-of-body experience. What did you think about that section of the book? Did it seem random to you? What did I miss? *End spoiler*

While I did enjoy the book, those last few chapters just were not my favorite. I stopped feeling engaged in Susie’s story, and it seemed the events on earth were rushed. While the first parts of the book were developed in detail, the end fell rather flat for me.

I enjoyed the book, and I consider it a highly creative novel, given the perspective of the narrator, but it was not a favorite for me in the end.

I read this book for the Take a Chance Challenge, chance number 1, random book selection. My requirements: fiction audiobook section, second aisle, third column form the right, third shelf down, tenth book in from right. I did cheat (so this is technically not a proper entry in to that challenge): I also gave myself the option of the tenth book from the left, but this was the book I choose. That’s as random as I can handle: an option between two books.

P.S. I’m still perfecting my RIP lists; I hope to get the post up tonight. If you are RIP-ing too, I think this book would work perfectly for it!

P.P.S. I’m never crazy about movies about books, but this is one that I might like to see. Her heaven looks so pretty!

Reviewed on August 27, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I read this book when it was so popular and I did enjoy it, but not as much as everyone else did. I saw the trailer for the movie at the theater the other day, and will probably see it.

  • Yeah, i still don’t think I can read this book. But I read your spoiler section so I know what happens. 🙂 That’s good enough for me, haha!

  • I read this a long time ago, so I don’t remember most of the details (for instance, I had totally forgotten the Spoiler part in your post)… but I remembered being really captivated and enchanted by the book when I initially read it. I was really invested in Susie’s story, and thought it was a really creative and interesting look at grief and “life after death”.
    A few trips ago to McKay’s I found a cheap copy and purchased it (the one I originally read had been a friend’s), because I would like to read the book again. I think the things you mentioned disliking (including the Spoiler part) will probably bother me more this time round, but I hope I am still able to enjoy it.

  • I read this book a long time ago, so the details are a bit fuzzy now. I remember enjoying it though.

    Thank you for pointing out the trailer – I hadn’t seen that before.
    I didn’t realise Peter Jackson and Stephen Spielburg were doing it. I think it looks as though it has been well done. I look forward to watching it.

  • Kathy, I don’t think I loved it as others either, but the movie looks so pretty, at least if they don’t have the violent parts it does…

    Amanda, I often read the spoilers just so I know if it’s worth reading the book…but then, I often read the last page first too! I’m weird.

    Steph, I think the thing I’ll remember most is the perspective of the narrator: how creative!

    Tara, I’m glad I’m not the only one! I agree, it changed the feel of the book a wee bit too much.

    Amy, I thought the end was okay, but I think the weird part kind of brought the entire end down in my mind a bit.

    Jackie, yeah, I think the movie has a good team working on it. I’m curious how it will be.

    Rhapsodyinbooks, I saw that on a different blog, so I’m just copying….

  • First of all, that preview is awesome! But I love Stanley Tucci-I don’t want to see him as a creepy serial killer.

    I read this book way back in college, maybe my freshman or sophomore year, so I don’t remember much other than the scene you mentioned in the spoilers (I remember thinking it was an incredible sacrifice on her sister’s part and really nice for Susie to be able to experience such an important part of life-trying to be vague, lol) and the ending (which made me happy!). The next year I read her memoir, Lucky, and the book definitely makes a ton more sense if you know Sebold’s background. I might need to reread this one and see what I still tink about it.

  • This has been on my TBR for ages, I keep getting intrigued by everyone’s reviews for it. Think I shall have to give it a go – then I come back and read the spoiler 🙂

  • Eva, I thought the review made it look pretty well done. I agree, the “spoiler” part was a “sweet” thing. I just totally didn’t see it coming; it seemed odd. I listened to some of the author interview but not all. I’m not sure I could stomach Lucky. It sounds quite brutally detailed, plus it’s real.

    Bella, the spoiler I just included above was what I didn’t like. But overall, the book isn’t about murder–it’s more hopeful and pretty than all that. I hope you like it if you do read it!

  • I actually read Lucky first before Lovely Bones. But like Eva, I found it makes sense after you read both books. In retrospect, Lovely Bones is probably what Sebold imagined how she wanted to end up like when she got raped. SPOILER Including the part where she comes down to earth and make love to the boy she liked and have that full teen experience.

  • I wanted to love this book so much. I mean, the story line and the reviews just screamed “This is such a YOU book”. Maybe my hopes were too high? Who knows. I just never got attached to the story or the characters. I should have felt empathy that just wasn’t there.

  • I enjoyed Lovely Bones-I am looking forward to the movie-I have Almost Moon on my read this year list (but not near the top)-I thought the point of view of the narrator of the story was the most interesting aspect of the novel

  • My teenage daughter and I really liked this book, and we’re looking forward to the movie adaptation (though this seems like a hard one to adapt to screen). Though I don’t mind sexual content in books, the part you mentioned bugged me a bit too. I just felt *odd,* for lack of a better way to put it. Excellent review!

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