The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

Hardcover, 2002

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Little, Brown and Company (2002), Edition: 1st, 328 pages

Description

This is the tale of family, memory, love, and living told by 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who is already in heaven. Through the voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and builds out of her family's grief a hopeful and joyful story.

Media reviews

Library Journal
Sebold's compelling and sometimes poetic prose style and unsparing vision transform Susie's tragedy into an ultimately rewarding novel.
10 more
Although some sections tend toward melodrama... other passages are dreamy and lyrical. Most striking is Sebold's mastery of a teenager's voice, from such small details as Susie's Strawberry-Banana Kissing Potion to her completely believable thought processes.
Kirkus Reviews
An extraordinary, almost-successful debut that treats sensational material with literary grace, narrated from heaven by the victim of a serial killer and pedophile.
Don't start "Lovely Bones" unless you can finish it. The book begins with more horror than you could imagine, but closes with more beauty than you could hope for.
Sebold takes an enormous risk in her wonderfully strange début novel: her narrator, Susie Salmon, is dead—murdered at the age of fourteen by a disturbed neighbor—and speaks from the vantage of Heaven. Such is the author's skill that from the first page this premise seems utterly believable... If in the end she reaches too far, the book remains a stunning achievement.
This is a high-wire act for a first novelist, and Alice Sebold maintains almost perfect balance.
"My name was Salmon, like the fish: first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." Go ahead, read it again. Almost everything that makes The Lovely Bones the breakout fiction debut of the year — the sweetness, the humor, the kicky rhythm, the deadpan suburban gothic — is right there, packed into those first two lines, under pressure and waiting to explode.
The Lovely Bones is a quick, compelling read, and though it's not heavy, neither is it light summer reading. It's a slight, serious novel that almost comes across like a narrated photo album, with each searing, carefully selected image worth its requisite thousand words.
It's a risky novel that gracefully succeeds. One character mentions another character's gift for describing things that "made her feel as if she knew exactly what it felt like — not just what it looked like." Which is what Sebold does so well, making readers feel what her characters feel — in life and death.
A luminescent debut novel that does something rare in the world of fiction—it conjures a fully realized imaginative universe that is both tangible and ethereal, creating a sublime friction between reality and ghostliness, the now and the nevermore.
What might play as a sentimental melodrama in the hands of a lesser writer becomes in this volume a keenly observed portrait of familial love and how it endures and changes over time.

User reviews

LibraryThing member manque
A friend dismissed this novel as "a pointless story, lazily told." I agree.

What makes the pointlessness of the novel so aggravating is the selection of subject matter: the rape and murder of a child (and the aftermath). I'm not suggesting that such subject matter should be off-limits for fiction, but I am suggesting that if an artist wants to go there, it'd better be worth the trip. In short, she'd better have something damned important to say that justifies (and indeed requires) the fictional portrayal of such horrors. To treat this subject matter simply for the sake of thrills is wholly unconscionable.

When I'm feeling generous, I'm inclined to allow that Sebold wanted to say something important, something deep, about family, love, or connections between people, and that she chose her subject matter as appropriate for the expression of those ideas. But even granting this, I'm calling her out for lacking the necessary skill to carry out the artistic task--and for not recognizing her lack of skill and maturity as an artist. Perhaps she should have attempted this book later in her career. At this point, the hollowness of the book lends a sick sort of leering quality to her treatment of a child rape/murder.

Even putting aside this major flaw, there are other problems with the writing that keep the novel from succeeding.

For a book that has so much to do with blood and love, it ends up feeling strangely bloodless. Too much craft and not enough caring or passion. One wonders why the author felt compelled to tell this story.

While the workmanlike prose is effective in evoking simple emotions, in the end the novel feels strangely devoid of feeling. With the exception of brief and infrequent flights into the ecstatic or lyrically poetic (often lasting no more than a sentence or two), nothing in the language of the novel is remarkable, and nothing in its style sets it apart. In some ways it feels like an exercise in the craft of writing, lacking conviction.

To be fair, this could be the result of the author's attempt to stay true to the central conceit of the novel: the story is told through the eyes of a murdered child observing her family on earth from what she calls "heaven," a perspective that (in this telling) includes a certain emotional distancing from the world of the living that increases over time. This device does allow for an unusual and intriguing mixture of first-person and third-person omniscient narratives, which is one of the book's more interesting features. Unfortunately, it also limits the author's diction to that of an average 14-year-old American girl. More problematically, as mentioned above, the vision of life after death here gives us a narrator who is increasingly emotionally detached from the events she relates. If the murdered girl doesn't care all that much about what happens, why should the reader?

Perhaps the author wanted to create an emotional distance in the narrator (and reader) to convey the distance, the letting-go, the sense of remove that is here associated with death. After all, we might say that death cures all passions. Yet this distancing effect seems to contradict of the novel's other central themes: that some passions can and do transcend death, or at least survive it. The problem is that, in this book, passion is reduced to something more akin to general interest or even mild curiosity--a far, far cry from the kind of intensity of feeling the reader is asked to believe might suffice to move heaven and earth, or the border between them.

Despite the promise of the story's somewhat different point of view, the writing fails to rise to the level demanded by its intense and tragic subject. If you're going to write about the damage done to a family when a child is murdered, or the ties that bind the dead to the living, you had better reach deeper into your soul than this book does--or at least offer up some insight or understanding that goes beyond a conventional tugging at heartstrings.
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LibraryThing member jolerie
How do you describe in words a violation done against you that rips your soul from your body? How do you put yourself back together after your heart, body, and spirit have been ravaged? The answer – you don’t. Susie Salmon is caught in between heaven and earth, and from there she shares with us her story. A story of how she was raped, murdered, and never to be found again. But more than just a story of brutal violence, The Lovely Bones is a story about letting go, of grief, of loss, and ultimately of the people we leave behind.

The first chapter into the book, I knew this wasn’t like any other story I have read. My stomach churned as the author describes how and where Susie is abducted and eventually murdered. She holds nothing back in the description and imagery so that you as the reader are left reeling in horror at the inhumanity and sheer evil that emanates from one single person. If the central focus of the story is to put a face on what evil looks like, I would have been left feeling hollow and scarred. But Alice Sebold goes on to weave a story from Susie’s perspective about love and how that love keeps us anchored to earth. She paints a story about how a family is left to deal with the pieces and memories of a daughter who was torn away, and in the end understanding that however final death may feel, a part of her will always be found their everyday moments.
I spent the first half of the book wandering and hoping that this guy, this monster would be found, caught and locked up until the end of his days, but by the end of the book, it was no longer about him, but about Susie and her relationship and love for the family she left behind. The journey of brokenness and healing in the end was front stage rather than the fate of the perpetrator. I will probably never read The Lovely Bones again, not for the lack of it being a good book, but rather the first time around is enough to haunt me forever.
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LibraryThing member minjung
This book was awful. I regret every word and page that I read, especially when I think about the wonderful book that I'm reading now that I could have been reading then instead of the drivel that was "The Lovely Bones."

The plot had WAY too many implausible holes in the story. I could have driven a chartered bus through some of those plot holes. I won't go into details, only because I don't like to post spoilers in reviews. The author also clearly didn't do her research on some points relevant to the plot. I don't necessarily expect my authors to become experts and be perfect, but when there are certain details on which the plot hinges, it would be nice if the author had a clue.

The author's writing style really didn't do much for me, either. I constantly felt as if I was swimming in mud reading this. If Sebold was aiming for a slow, lyrical writing style, she overshot by far. This was muddled, messy, and mucky.
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LibraryThing member FrogPrincessuk
Bland and totally unmemorable.
LibraryThing member sarah-e
This is a beautiful story. I think some people have been put off by The Lovely Bones because it's not what they're expecting. The subject matter is rough and the details are presented without much sympathy for the reader. Susie's murder is the catalyst of the story but the book is about how her family grows in the years that follow. None of the characters are stale or archetypal; and while I didn't identify with any of them, I believed them. In a way, an early death gives Susie the perfect life - a beautiful, painless, endless childhood - until she is left behind as her family grows older, matures, and don't all manage to get on with their lives. At times the story was hard to read, there were details I didn't want to know, secrets that shouldn't have been told. In the end I wasn't ready for the book to be finished - I found I really cared about Susie and I didn't want to put the book away. I recommend it to a reader who is looking for characters who might not be entirely lovable, but are memorable and real.… (more)
LibraryThing member rcjwhite
Crap.

Writing was bad, felt like it went on forever...
just watch the movie, it's beter
LibraryThing member brendajanefrank
Couldn't put it down.
LibraryThing member Raven
The plot is simple. In 1973, Susie Salmon, aged fourteen, is murdered one winter's afternoon by a neigbour. Her body is never found. Nevertheless, she narrates the story from her version of a heaven, a strange seventies hybrid of high school and paradise, watching her family falling apart below.

And it's hard to say more about the story than that. It suffers, I think from being beautifully written, often with gorgeous turns of prose, but without the pacing to support it: it gets slower and slower, and plot threads have a tendency to being dropped and not picked up again. The denoument when it comes is hard to make sense of, and it's not entirely clear what the reader is meant to take from it. But it does have very likeable characters, a charismatic narrator and a great sense of time and place, so it's very difficult to discount the novel altogether, and indeed, it's very readable: I read the first half of it on a park bench in the Florida Everglades, and was only persuaded to stop when the owner demanded it back. This time around, again, I read it at very few sittings. It's a good book, it's worth reading. But it could be better.… (more)
LibraryThing member ccahill
The story was depressing and boring; the writing was simple and dull. Several times I contemplated not finishing the book, but against my better judgment, I did. I would not recommend this book to anyone, and consider it a waste of my time.
LibraryThing member L1nda
I struggled through much of this book, I don't know whether it was my mood or the book itself. I just couldn't care for the characters and found it frustrating to read.
LibraryThing member susanbevans
On her way home from school on a snowy December day in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon ("like the fish") is lured into a makeshift underground den in a cornfield and brutally raped and murdered, the latest victim of a serial killer - the man she knew as her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. The Lovely Bones is about Susie watching her friends and family from heaven.

I felt that the story had great potential for creativity - it seemed a unique idea, and I really wanted to like it, but I was disappointed. There are some enjoyable moments of poetic language and imagery, but most are overdone and unnatural. It was impossible to feel anything for the characters - even Susie herself - as they were as completely underdeveloped. Sebold could have explored the emotions of the Salmon family as they attempted to deal with the senseless tragedy, but instead treated all of her characters with a cold detachment that makes them all seem like shadows rather than real people.

The characters were incredibly flat, the scenes disjointed, the storyline contrived, the ending trite - I was left feeling cheated out of the time I spent reading this book. The real proof is here in my review - I can't even think of much to say about The Lovely Bones, and I just finished reading it not 30 minutes ago!
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LibraryThing member JypsyJBook
I honestly don't know what to say about this book. I'll begin by saying that when the major plot twist occurred at the end, I was knocked a little off-balance and had a few seconds of subconsciously wondering if I could "follow the author" down that particular path. But then I realized how readily I had followed her down the path of observing earth through the eyes of a murdered girl, and it rang so true psychologically that I almost didn't think of it as a fantastical plot. So that brings me to my first point: The characters seem very real and well-developed. Each character’s journey to process their grief was interesting and added a lot to the story.

That being said, the reason I don’t know what to say about this book is that it didn’t leave much of a “lingering impression” in my mind now that I’m done reading it. It was engaging, thought-provoking, and sometimes even powerful while I was reading it but now that I’m done with it, I’m just ready to pick up another book. Maybe that says more about my current state of mind than about the book itself; maybe I just need to process it more. But I guess it just seems to me that all of its excellent small points didn’t add up to anything in the end.

Or perhaps I’m just not satisfied with the book’s “conclusion.” The title comes from the following quote (Susie Salmon, the murdered girl, is the first-person narrator):

“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 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.”

So basically, she comes to realize that her death deeply affected her family members and friends (obviously), and that their lives ended up being a deep, rich tapestry of human existence that perhaps they wouldn’t have been had she not been murdered. Goodness—and even magnificence—came out of Susie’s death.

When I type this out, I wonder why this conclusion doesn’t satisfy me. It’s certainly something I agree with: Horrible tragedies can result in depth and magnificence and beauty. Is it just that the conclusion seems so obvious? Even trite?

I’m going to conclude lamely—much like The Lovely Bones—and just say that I have mixed feelings about the book. It’s definitely worth reading though, and you probably won’t be able to put it down because it’s such a page-turner!
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LibraryThing member BookAddict
While I normally don't read much popular fiction and almost always wonder why I wasted my time with a recommendation from the masses, this book has entirely surprised me. I can not say I enjoyed it because the subject was tragic but the book caught me and held me through tears from the beginning to the end. Having been a victim myself I appreciate the way the author has portrayed the thoughts and feelings of the victim as she became entrapped and experienced her horrible fate. The author portrayed the effect on her family of the tragic death, and their thoughts and feelings, with an insight rarely seen. Many of us have suffered the loss of a loved one, suffered pain, abuse, violence and many of the feelings of injustice and soul searching that this book addresses. One thing that stands out in the end is that if given a few minutes on earth and only those, what would be important to you and what would you really want to do above all else. I was deeply effected by this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member sturlington
This book was okay, but not special, and at some points was downright difficult to read. The novel opens with a vivid description of a child rape and murder that was more disturbing than most horror novels I’ve read. The victim, Susie, narrates the rest of the story’s events from her own personal heaven, as she watches her family members struggle to get over her disappearance (her body is never found). I wish there had been more about the afterlife concept and Susie’s character development after she dies, her struggle to let go of her short life on earth. And the story was so unrelentingly sad, with very little payoff, that I had to wonder why I was bothering to read it at all.… (more)
LibraryThing member StoutHearted
This novel is captivating for many odd moments. You're thrown into a world of death and morbidity through the narrarator introducing herself as a dead child, Susie Salmon, who then proceeds to relate the gruesome way she died at the hands of a serial child rapist. From then on, we're introduced to what appears to be the most comforting version of heaven: One that is of the dead person's own design, complete with your late Grandma and family dog. Heaven is even complete with counselors to help you adjust in the transition from life to death. While it appears this is the author's way to put the dead in the best possible place, it does feel a bit over-the-top. I do give points for originality, however.

Back on earth, Susie's family and friends cope with her death. Here is where the novel has its most realistic feel: her father unraveling and obsessed, her mother finding comfort in the arms of the investigating sheriff, her sister coming to terms with outliving her sibling, and her younger brother trying to make sense of the change in his family. Friends and acquaintances left behind are affected by her death, too, with some becoming obsessed by her death. In turn, Susie is obsessed with them, and even goes as far as to possess one of their bodies. (Imagine after such a fantastical beginning, thinking "OK, now it's getting weird.") The odd interaction between the living and the dead sometimes felt a bit much, but the author makes up for it with the compelling charactarizations of those left behind. And she manages to make a satisfying ending out of unsatisfying events, like the fate of Susie's murderer and her body. It's a fascinating story about how lives can move on after a horrifying event, yet still be influenced by it years later. Even Susie must come to terms with her awful death, and through her journey, we come to terms with it, too.

Despite its odd moments, the novel is a real page-turner, well-written, and imaginative.
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LibraryThing member Suuze
I absolutely LOVED this book. The writing is superb, especially considering the topic. So well planned, so thoughtful, so intelligently written - very impressive.I thought it would be depressing, or sad, but it absolutely was not..at all. Sure I cried, because it was so touching and emotional - but not depressing.I sincerely hope Alice Sebold's view of heaven and the relationship of souls with those left on earth is at least partially true. I could identify strongly with it, having experienced some of it after my beloved Mother died.This book is a treasure.… (more)
LibraryThing member karriethelibrarian
Rarely do you get to read a book where the protagonist is dead and looking down on the life she has just left, but that's just what happens in the Lovely Bones. As I read this book I was transported to 1973 which was my 14th year -- the same year that Susie Salmon is raped and killed. There were so many descriptions of the time that I felt like I was 13 again.

As Susie looks down on her grieving family she wants them to discover that their neighbor is the one who murdered her. The story is sweet and heartfelt, but at the same time it's creepy and unnerving. In a couple of parts Sebold gets way out there when Susie's desire to be alive again is so powerful that she actually transports herself back into another body. The story is unreal and bizarre in some parts, but it's not completely unbelieveable. Isn't there a small part of us that would like to look down on our family after we've gone and see how they're coping? If we were murdered, wouldn't we want to expose the guy?
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LibraryThing member beckybose
A tender and compelling story which touches on a potential for neglect and taking for granted the preciousness and vulnerability of life. The sadness of the inevitable family rifts and the sweet naivety of the child observer are sometimes hard to read.
LibraryThing member chndlrs
I hated it. Just loathed it. It carefully narrates the rape and murder of a little girl in such detail that I have deep suspicions about the author. I feel unclean after reading it.
LibraryThing member Clurb
Overrated and sappy. I didn't hate this but then again there was absolutely nothing that I liked about it. What other people had described to me as an insightful and original take on a story of love and death, I found terribly labourious. I had a hard time suspending my disbelief with this one.
LibraryThing member coffee.is.yum
I don't see how any mother could possibly read this material. I stopped reading because I was too disgusted to continue.
LibraryThing member barpurple
Damning with faint praise, but this is an ok book. No more no less.
LibraryThing member Katie_H
Based on the first chapter of this novel, it seemed like it would be an extremely intriguing read. I am disappointed to say that the fascinating idea quickly fell flat. The story begins with the rape and murder of Susie Salmon, a young high school girl. The remainder of the novel is told from her viewpoint while she observes her former friends and family from heaven. She eventually learns that she can briefly touch their lives and possibly even more. I kept hoping that the book would improve, so I was compelled to finish, but it quickly lost its momentum and remained boring throughout, creating frustration on my part. The concept of heaven was not explored well enough, and the mystery was not solved in such a way that Susie's family could receive adequate closure. The characters were strange and unrealistic, and the plot did not live up to its hype. The concept and writing, however, are enough for me to give Sebold another try at a later date.… (more)
LibraryThing member kaulsu
How can such a topic result in such a sweet story? Even Sebold's depiction of the pedophile, George Harvey, was sympathetic even though each time he walked onto the page I tensed up thinking "here he goes again."

The anguish the family experiences, even years after the fact, is not minimized by Sebold. In fact, she doesn't downplay any of the challenges dealing with a murder of a child would play in the home, among friends, in the school, or in the community. Yet, still, somehow I found comfort in reading this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member EliSparkie
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is one of the most interesting book I have read in a while. The novel is about a young lady, Susie Salmon, who is raped and then murdered. Susie then goes to heaven, and watchs her family develop and change after her murder. Her dad grows obsessed with finding her murderer, her mom cheats on her father then leaves the family, and Lindsey grows hard in her sisters death. The climax occurs when Susie has her greatest wish fulfilled: she makes love with Ray Singh through the miracle of entering Ruth’s body. This allows her to “grow up” and so enter the Heaven where she truly belongs. In the end, every family member has accepted their way of grieving for Susie and cut the cord that binds them to Susie, cords that keep Susie bound to Earth. They move on with their lives and Susie accepts her own death. I would recommend this book to everyone, it was truely amazing.… (more)

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